House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that he opposes a new Alabama law that outlaws virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, arguing that it “goes further than I believe.”
“I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on,” McCarthy said at his weekly news conference.
The new antiabortion law in Alabama, the strictest in the country, has divided Republicans and put them on the defensive on the issue. Until this week, Republicans had been playing offense by casting Democrats as extreme due to a recent New York law expanding access to late-term abortion.
In addition to not including exceptions for rape or incest, the law also allows a penalty of up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions.
Republicans are wary of a reprise of 2012, when they lost two key Senate races in Indiana and Missouri after the party’s nominees in those states made comments about pregnancies resulting from rape. The debate over the Alabama law also comes at a time when Republicans are looking to make inroads with suburban women, a voting bloc that they lost when Democrats recaptured the House in 2018.
Among those criticizing the Alabama bill this week was longtime televangelist Pat Robertson, who decried it as “extreme.”
Trump and the White House have been noticeably silent on the law, and Republican senators such as Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) facing tough reelection races next year have been hesitant to weigh in on it.
At his Thursday news conference, McCarthy said exceptions for rape and incest are “exactly what Republicans have voted on in this House. That’s what our platform says.”
President Trump said in 2016 that he would support changing the platform to include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. But the platform does not in fact include those exceptions. A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McCarthy also declined to offer an opinion on whether the Alabama law should be struck down.
“Look I’m not an attorney. I’m not on the Supreme Court,” McCarthy said, adding that it was up to the justices on the top court to decide.
A spokesman for the other top Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Alabama law.