WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans signaled in a hearing Tuesday that they intend to keep courting abortion opponents on the campaign trail by talking about a bill they say would protect infants born during attempted abortions, legislation Democrats call redundant.
The parties scheduled dueling hearings over abortion this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the bill comes the day before a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee holds its own hearing on Democrats' interest in expanding abortion rights.
President Donald Trump, during his State of the Union speech last week, called upon Congress "to pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies," which was juxtaposed with the introduction of one of his guests -- a toddler, Ellie Schneider, who was born prematurely at 21 weeks and 6 days.
Two of Trump's key priorities for Congress are passing this bill and passing legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Last February, the Senate fell short, 53-44, of passing this bill after Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., was unable to get a unanimous consent request on another nearly identical version of the bill.
The 2019 roll call vote primarily fell along party lines with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, opposed. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who also supports abortion rights, did not vote. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania voted in favor of the bill.
This bill and other legislation tied to restrictions on abortion or expansions of abortion rights face an uphill climb this Congress. Senate Republicans' narrow majority has prevented them from passing anti-abortion legislation, while House Democrats' efforts to expand abortion rights are unlikely to be taken up by the Senate.
But both chambers have leveraged their own bills as campaign trail messages, just as they have with next month's Supreme Court case on a Louisiana abortion law.
The theme in Republican questioning was framing the legislation as a simple measure they say is necessary to protect infants born during attempted abortions. They sought to separate it from the moral debate over abortion.
"I am proudly pro-life, but I am not here to get my pro-abortion rights colleagues to join me at next year's March for Life," said Sasse, who chaired Tuesday's hearing. "That's not what this hearing is about. This hearing is not about overturning Roe v. Wade. ... This hearing is about making sure that every newborn baby has a fighting chance whether she's born in a labor and delivery ward or whether she's born in an abortion clinic."