Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to sign on as the chief sponsor of a bill that
calls for the end of most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy - a move that
would put him in the thick of another politically charged national debate and
perhaps shield him from the barrage of criticism he is facing on immigration.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said that her organization and other pro-life groups have been lobbying Mr. Rubio for weeks to lead the charge in the Senate, and she predicted those efforts will pay off.
"I am extremely optimistic that he will say, 'Yes,'" Mrs. Dannenfelser said. "There is no one who can articulate this in a better way than he does. He just is unmatched in his ability to communicate this to a wide audience."
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and the Family Research Council are also licked their chops over the prospects of Mr. Rubio carrying the bill, calling him a "wonderful" and "great" sponsor.
The GOP-controlled House passed the bill, known as the Pain- Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, on a 228-to-196 vote last month that split chiefly along party lines. The legislation would ban abortions 20 weeks into pregnancy, with exceptions where the mother's life is at stake or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
The bill is unlikely to even be taken up in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, controls the floor. And the White House has already vowed to veto the House legislation should it pass.
Still, the effort to ban abortions beyond 20 weeks is gaining traction in states, including Texas where Republicans are barreling over Democratic opposition on their way to passing a similar law.
Douglas Johnson, NRLC's legislative director, said that nine states have adopted fetal pain laws, which supporters say protects unborn children from abortion after they can feel pain.
Mr. Johnson said the NRLC sees the proposal as the most important pro-life bill to come before the Senate since it passed the Partial- Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003.
"It is our top legislative priority," Mr. Johnson said, adding the NRLC has been aware of Mr. Rubio's interest in the legislation since the middle of May and has "encouraged this interest."
The effort could help Mr. Rubio shift attention away from the ongoing immigration debate, where he has been taking his lumps for playing a lead role in powering comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate.
That move could come back to haunt him if he runs for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Grass-roots conservatives who don't like the idea of legalizing the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are expected to have a major say in picking the winner.
"The right, and especially the 2010 right, views the immigration bill as treachery," said Mike McKenna, a GOP consultant. "Benedict Arnold was a great general during the Revolution, second only to Washington. But he is only remembered for the one act of betrayal."
Mr. McKenna also said it's unlikely that sponsoring pro-life legislation will balance out in the minds of primary voters, since Mr. Rubio has already said he is pro-life which means "he is supposed to be solid on abortion."
"He is a Catholic - a real one, not like Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi," he said. "Where I'm from, you get no extra credit for doing the minimum."
John Feehery, a GOP consultant, cut Mr. Rubio some slack, saying that the effort shows he is a "conviction politician" who is "willing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences."
Polls show that the public is closely divided on the issue.
A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll released last month showed 48 percent supporting the 20-week ban on most abortions, and 44 percent opposing it.
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