Do Exceptions Help, Politically?

A Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act has passed the U.S. House and is on its way to the U.S. Senate. It would restrict abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a point at which there is evidence that the preborn child feels pain. That’s “restrict,” not “prevent.” The bill carries a rape-and-incest exception.


The ability to feel pain is not a function of the criminal activity of one’s biological father, so the exception undermines the whole science-is-on-our-side defense of Pain-Capable. Darlene Pawlik expands on the problematic nature of the exception in “I’m Pain-Capable, How ’bout You?

I appreciate the good intentions in this attempt to protect at least some children, and I’m not going to work for the defeat of a candidate solely on the basis of supporting Pain-Capable in its current form. I just have to wonder why the exception is in there. From a pragmatic point of view, does it gain any votes over a no-exceptions bill?

I don’t know, but I can recall a situation in New Hampshire last year when one abortion bill had no rape-and-incest exception while two others did. Was there a big difference in the results among those three votes? Not really. From my March 15, 2016 post:

There were three bills [in NH in 2016] to restrict mid- and late-term abortions. One of them, HB 1328, would have instituted a 20-week limit with an exception for abortions following rape or incest. The other bills would have limited abortions at viability (HB 1625) and at the point where the preborn child can feel pain (HB 1636). Was there any tactical advantage to including exceptions in one of the bills?

Not that I could see. Only seven representatives voted FOR the bill with exceptions and AGAINST the other two mid- and late-term bills. On the other hand, twelve representatives did the opposite, opposing the exceptions bill while supporting the HB 1625 and HB 1636.

All three of those bills failed, although HB 1625 – to prohibit abortion after viability, without a rape-and-incest exception – lost by only three votes.

Congressman Steve Scalise, the Republican Majority Whip, has acknowledged that passage of the Pain-Capable Act in Congress took some effort. I expect the same will be true in the Senate.

Whose Senate vote will be granted or withheld on the basis of exceptions language? Is there any tactical advantage to the exceptions? I don’t know, but what I saw in Concord in 2016 makes me wonder.