Three years ago, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to prohibit doctors in the District of Columbia from killing unborn children who are 20 weeks old or older unless the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother.
When the bill was brought to the floor on July 31, 2012 -- under a motion to suspend the rules, which required it to get a two-thirds vote -- some pro-abortion Democrats objected that it went so far as to protect the lives of 20-week-old-or-older babies who had been conceived through rape or incest and that it did not include a "health" exception.
To them, this was an outrage.
"The callous indifference that is shown to the lives, the health, the well-being and constitutional rights of women in this bill simply beggar description," Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York said in a floor speech. "For instance, the bill has no provision whatsoever for women who have been the victims of rape or incest, and there is no exception for a woman's health."
The bill did not get the two-thirds needed to pass under a suspension of the rules, but it did get a majority: 220 members voted for it, including 17 Democrats.
A year later, Republican leaders brought to the House floor a national Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Unlike the D.C. bill, the final version of this national bill did contain rape and incest exceptions -- but not a "health" exception.
This version, explained the official summary by the Congressional Research Service, would prohibit an "abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater, except: (1) where necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, excluding psychological or emotional conditions; or (2) where the pregnancy is the result of rape, or the result of incest against a minor, if the rape has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency, or if the incest has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency or to a government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse or neglect."
This time, pro-abortion Democrats objected that a doctor would not be allowed to kill a 20-week-or-older unborn child conceived through rape or incest unless the rape or incest was reported -- and that the bill did not have a "health" exception.
"The narrow health exception in the bill only allows for abortions that are necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman," complained Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.
"The rape and incest exceptions are insulting and excessively narrow," she said. "They require reporting the crime to law enforcement prior to seeking care."
The majority did not find this argument persuasive. The House passed the bill 228 to 196, with 10 members not voting. Six Democrats voted for this version, which allowed a doctor to kill a 20-week-or-older unborn child if the child was conceived in rape or incest that had been reported.
The Republicans then won a 247-to-188 majority in the House in the 2014 elections and also took control of the Senate. Theoretically, they had the votes to pass and send to President Obama a bill banning abortion in the United States at 20 weeks or later.
In January, the House Republican leadership scheduled and then canceled a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This time, a group of Republicans complained that the rape and incest exceptions, the same as those in the 2013 bill, were too stringent and the bill posed political problems.
If House Republicans continue on the trajectory they have followed so far, the next version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act they bring up for a vote will have exceptions broad enough to make it meaningless.
Congress needs to move in the other direction. If we human beings have a God-given right to life -- which we do -- it belongs to all of us, not only to those who belong to groups preferred by the current members of Congress.
A human being conceived in rape or incest -- whether an unborn child or a 90-year-old man or woman -- has the same God-given right to life as every other human being.