Republican lawmakers have scheduled a carefully timed Senate vote on 20-week abortion bans for Tuesday in what pundits were casting as an attempt to capitalize on the excitement around Pope Francis' visit to the United States. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up a procedural vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act two days before the pontiff was due to address a joint session of Congress, Politico reported.
Conservatives said they hoped Francis would talk about the Catholic Church's stance against abortion while stateside. “I think this is a very appropriate and moderate pro-life vote to have, particularly with Pope Francis being in Washington,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., told Politico.
The bill, which would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, passed in the House in May. But experts have predicted that the Democrats will block it in the Senate amid growing conservative calls to defund Planned Parenthood despite the threat of a government shutdown, Roll Call reported.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., denounced the vote's timing as a public relations ploy. "This is just a show vote. The only reason [McConnell's] doing this? He knows it’s going to lose," Reid told Politico last week. “He’s doing it for reasons that I’m not sure anyone appreciates, but he is doing it because the pope is coming here.”
No one knows what Francis, known for breaking tradition to take on social issues like gay marriage and climate change, will say in his historic address to Congress. But he did announce earlier this month that all Catholic priests could forgive "the sin of abortion" during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy. In doing so, Francis cited the "existential and moral ordeal" of women who made the "agonizing and painful decision" to have the procedure, Reuters reported.