GOP leaders ready late-term abortion bill for vote next week

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leaders are planning a House vote next week on a bill banning nearly all late-term abortions after dropping a requirement for reporting rapes that sparked a January rebellion among GOP women and moderates.

After working behind the scenes with anti-abortion groups and female Republican lawmakers, party leaders have readied legislation allowing rape victims to have late-term abortions if they receive counseling or medical treatment at least 48 hours before the procedure. That replaces language that only allowed abortions for rape victims who reported the assault to law enforcement authorities.

GOP women and moderates had objected that requiring a report to law enforcement officials placed an unfair burden on women already staggered by the extraordinary stress of a sexual assault and resulting pregnancy. Some also said the earlier provision could make the GOP look harsh as it seeks to win support from women and younger voters for the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

The overhaul of the bill highlighted the competing political pressures that Republicans confront. They also remain eager to avoid alienating anti-abortion voters who are among the GOP's most staunch backers.

The bill would also let minors who are victims of incest have abortions if they report the attack to social service workers or law enforcement agencies. The measure was described by Republican aides and lobbyists who spoke on condition of anonymity because its details were not yet publicly released.

GOP aides predicted House passage of the legislation, which would ban most abortions starting with the 20th week of pregnancy. The vote could occur on Wednesday, the second anniversary of the murder conviction of a Pennsylvania abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell, in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive and later killed with scissors.

Anti-abortion groups and lawmakers who worked with GOP leaders praised the legislation.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, called the measure "a strong bill" and said GOP leaders "deserve great credit for not taking the easy route of gravely weakening the bill in order to facilitate a quick vote."

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., the bill's chief sponsor, said the measure "will now unite the pro-life base in a positive and effective way."

Democrats and abortion-rights groups opposed the initial bill and are likely to do the same now.

The latest measure is "designed to deny America's women access to the full range of health care services without a meaningful exception to protect women's health," said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Republicans like to claim there's no GOP 'war on women,' but actions speak louder than words."

Aides to lawmakers who opposed the bill's original reporting requirement, including Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., who was one of the most outspoken foes, did not respond to requests for comment.

But an aide to one lawmaker who had objected to the initial requirements said that lawmaker was consulted as the legislation was being changed and supports the new version. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because they lacked permission to discuss the issue with reporters on the record.

The initial objections by GOP women forced party leaders to abruptly abandon plans to debate the legislation on Jan. 22. That was the day of the annual March for Life, which brings thousands of anti-abortion protesters to the capital.

Instead, the House passed legislation that day to permanently ban federal aid for most abortions. That bill represented little change from current law since Congress votes to do that every year.

The fate of the late-term abortion ban remains dim. Abortion rights lawmakers in the more moderate Senate could stifle the measure by denying it the 60 votes it would need to avoid dying from procedural delays. President Barack Obama would likely veto it anyway.

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