Here's how to keep pro-life policies in place

Here's how to keep pro-life policies in place
© Greg Nash

This January when Republicans are the minority they will no longer control all the committees, set the schedule or decide which bills get votes on the House floor.

But Republicans will not be powerless. They would do well to learn some lessons from the Democrats who used minority status to their advantage. There are tools at the minority’s disposal that could help stop pro-abortion legislation as well as build the case to the American people that a pro-life majority should be in control.

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Many serving in the 116th Congress may not realize this is the case. In fact, 73 percent of the incoming 116th Republican caucus have never served in the Minority (there are close to a dozen races still undecided but none involving Members who served prior to 2011). 

One of the most obvious, though underutilized, tools is the power of the microphone. One-minute floor speeches are short speeches (300 words) made by members before or after legislative business each day. They do little to push for passage of legislation, but they contribute greatly to the debate on the issues.

The possible impact of these speeches cannot be emphasized enough although some may scoff at the idea of a 300-word speech making any sort of impact. Remember the Gettysburg Address was just 272 words. A member might not think themselves the next Abraham Lincoln, still they have a resource the 16th president did not — C-Span. 

Congressional speeches are broadcast over C-Span which, according to a 2004 Pew Research Poll, is watched by over 52 million Americans and can at any given time have an audience of one million. A politician would likely fly across the country to speak to an audience of twenty thousand — why not walk across the street to address a million. On top of that, a large majority of C-Span viewers are politically engaged citizens. They are people who show up at townhalls and, most importantly, they are the ones who vote.

Another tool available to all members is a 60-minute “special order speech” that usually takes place at the end of the day after the House has completed all legislative business. Special orders provide one of the few opportunities for non-legislative debate in the House.

Following any floor speech Members could amplify their message by notifying local press with a release as well as forwarding the clip to allies outside of Congress who can in turn share with their lists. 

Speeches help however there are more immediately impactful options available. Both in committee as well as on the House floor the minority party can generally offer up amendments. 

These amendments may improve the bill, or they may be “poison pills” — that is, issues popular with the American people but not with the liberal Democratic base. A Democrat who votes against a poison pill amendment would likely pay the price back in their home district. For example, requiring parental notification in cases of a child seeking an abortion. The last time Gallup polled on the issue, it was popular to the tune of 71 percent in favor. Anyone voting against such an amendment risks angering a large part of their constituency. 

Finally, while amendments can be blocked by the majority party “motions to recommit” (MTR) are much harder for the ruling party to stop. MTR’s provide a last opportunity for the House to affect a measure before passage, either by amending it or sending it back to committee.

The motion to recommit is often referred to as “the minority’s motion,” because preference for offering MTR’s is given to a member of the minority party who is opposed to the bill. In 2010, during the debate over ObamaCare, the Republicans offered as their MTR language to protect the unborn, similar to language called “Stupak-Pitts,” in an earlier version of the bill. In discussing the MTR, Bart Stupak himself correctly predicted that members of the Democratic majority “were concerned about [the MTR],” specifically that voting against it may frame them as ‘flip-floppers’ or soft on abortion.  

Ultimately, the minority’s goal should be to get majority-party members to take positions on issues and build an unfavorable record with the public — which will hurt their reelection chances. And Republicans should learn from Democrats just which tools are at the Minority’s disposal — because knowledge is power.

Tom McClusky is the President of March for Life Action, a pro-life organization.