Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law

Senate Republicans are scrambling to distance themselves from a harsh new Alabama law that bans nearly all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, and carries a penalty of up to 99 years in prison for anyone performing the procedure.

Most GOP senators are trying their best to steer clear of the firestorm, arguing it’s a state-level issue that doesn’t involve Congress.

But the controversial law will undoubtedly stoke the abortion debate heading into the 2020 elections.

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Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities MORE (Maine), who is up for reelection next year in a state Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Saagar Enjeti ponders Hillary Clinton's 2020 plans Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 MORE won in 2016, is taking the lead in slamming the Alabama statute as “very extreme” and a “terrible law.”

“I’m very much opposed to the Alabama law,” Collins told The Hill. “I think it’s completely inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and will lead to a virtual ban on abortions in Alabama, even for victims of incest and rape.”

“I can’t imagine that any justice could find that to be consistent with the previous precedence,” she told CNN in a separate interview.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (Alaska), another leading Republican moderate, declined to comment on the Alabama law as she headed into a lunch meeting Thursday.

When later pressed as she headed to the Senate floor for the final vote of the week, Murkowski told reporters that she disagrees with the lack of an exception for the victims of rape or incest.

“I think you know where I come from on that. I believe that there need to be exceptions,” she said.

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea GOP leader says he had 'a hard time' believing Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi says House will move forward with impeachment MORE (R-Calif.) raised the same concern.

“I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on,” McCarthy told reporters at a press conference, noting that such exceptions are in the GOP platform.

“It goes further than I believe, yes,” he said of the strict law.

The prohibition on abortions even in cases of rape or incest has raised for Republicans the frightening specter of a repeat of the 2012 elections, when GOP candidates’ comments on the subject cost them what were thought to be sure-win races.

Former Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock famously blew his chance to win the 2012 Indiana Senate race when he declared, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Mourdock’s comments became a flashpoint in the election and, GOP strategists believed at the time, spilled over to affect other races.

That memory was still fresh in the minds of some Senate Republicans on Thursday. 

“When Mr. Mourdock inartfully said it’s ‘God’s will’ — remember that? — in a debate, there was a hue and cry,” said Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill MORE (R-Miss.).

Wicker, however, emphasized, “I’m very pro-life.”

“We’ll see what the courts do,” he added, referring to the Alabama law.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records MORE, Alabama’s senior Republican senator, also distanced himself from his state’s hard-line law.

“I’m not down there,” he said Thursday. “All I know is what I’ve read.”

Shelby instead expressed his support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except when the life of the mother is at risk or in cases of rape and incest.

“I’ve always supported the Hyde Amendment,” he said.

When asked if that meant he supported exceptions in cases of rape and incest, Shelby gave an affirmative response.

Senate Republicans in recent months have pushed two bills, one sponsored by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) that would protect fetuses after 20 weeks of pregnancy — the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — and a second, sponsored by Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseFCC votes to bar use of its funds to purchase Huawei, ZTE equipment Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition MORE (R-Neb.) that would protect infants born after failed abortions, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Both measures have failed to clear procedural hurdles on the Senate floor.

The Alabama law goes further than both Senate bills by prohibiting abortion at any stage of pregnancy and not allowing exceptions for rape and incest.

Graham’s 20-week abortion ban would allow for exceptions if a pregnancy is the result of rape and the woman has received medical treatment or counseling before the abortion, and if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest against a minor.

Other Republicans facing tough reelection races in 2020 dodged questions on the Alabama law.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Planned Parenthood targets GOP senators in seven-figure ad campaign MORE (R-Colo.), when approached, said he was late to a meeting and referred questions to his office. Aides to Gardner did not respond to a request for comment.

Gardner is one of two Republicans running next year in a state Clinton carried in 2016.

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Planned Parenthood targets GOP senators in seven-figure ad campaign Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.), another top Democratic target in 2020, dismissed the Alabama law as a state matter.

“That’s a state issue,” she said. “I’m focused on my work here.”

The remark drew criticism from Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights advocacy group.

“Martha McSally is wrong. This is a coordinated attack across the country by the radical right and anyone who is a part of the GOP and in a state that has similar laws that are being introduced by lawmakers needs to have an answer for that,” she said.

“Martha McSally is a federal official and the federal government has always had a role in protecting its citizens,” Hogue added.