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June 19, 2013 10:58 AM Abortion Kabuki

By Ed Kilgore

So the U.S. House of Representatives, as expected, passed the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” by a 228-196 margin. As you’d figure from a bill festooned in its title with so many ideological billboards, it’s an entirely symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Republican governors and state legislators who are busily chipping away at reproductive rights wherever they can.

But the bill does provide a useful benchmark of the partisan polarization surrounding abortion policy.

When the House passed Rick Santorum’s “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act” back in 2003, 63 Democrats voted for it. Only 6 voted for the the latest bill. Meanwhile, pro-choice Republicans have long been a dying breed: all but 4 voted for Santorum’s bill (which was a bit easier to support because it proscribed one method of abortion instead of imposing a flat late-term ban), and all but 6 for yesterday’s measure, though at least two of them—Georgia’s Paul Broun and Rob Woodall—voted “no” to protest the rape/incest exception included at the last minute.

The other big difference between the two situations, of course, is that in 2003 a Republican-controlled Senate passed Santorum’s bill (by a comfortable 64-33 margin, with 16 Democrats voting “yea” and 3 Republicans voting “nay”), which was then signed into law by George W. Bush, while the current legislation won’t be brought up in the Senate and would have in any event faced a certain presidential veto.

We’ll have to wait and see what the configuration of forces happens to be next time a major congressional vote is held on abortion policy, but make no mistake: this issue is now as thoroughly partisan as any you will find this side of Obamacare, and it rivals even that.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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