OPINION: Heck once again faces anti-woman charges


The last time Rep. Joe Heck was accused of being uncaring toward rape victims, there wasn’t any proof to back up the charge.

It was 2012, and former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera was airing an ad in which a rape-victim advocate accused Heck of voting to restrict victims’ access to abortion. But the bill in question had a specific exception for rape and incest.

Heck insisted, then and now, that his position is clear: He’s a pro-life guy who thinks federal funds shouldn’t pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a pregnant woman.

But back in 2012, Heck voted for another bill, one that didn’t contain those exceptions. And now he’s being hit again on the issue by Democratic political trainer Erin Bilbray, who’s running for the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District. In a fundraising missive, she assaults Heck on women’s issues, accusing him of having “voted to criminalize abortions for rape victims.”

At issue is HR 3803, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill — which failed to muster a two-thirds vote to overcome a procedural hurdle in July 2012 — would have outlawed all abortions in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks, except those to save a pregnant woman’s life. There is no exception in the bill for rape or incest. And Heck not only voted for it (along with fellow Republican Rep. Mark Amodei), but was a co-sponsor.

Now, it must be said that the bill would not have put women in jail for seeking abortions — in fact, there is a specific provision preventing women from being prosecuted under the law. But it would have made it illegal for doctors in Washington, D.C., to perform any abortion for any reason (except for lifesaving procedures) after 20 weeks. In that sense, it can be said the bill makes those abortions criminal. (Fetuses are generally considered viable — that is, able to survive on their own — after about 24 weeks, but anti-abortion advocates have claimed they can feel pain earlier in their development, prompting the push to outlaw abortion sooner.)

Advocates for the bill argue victims of an awful crime such as rape would not wait four months — or probably even four hours — to avoid carrying their attacker’s child. (Each situation is different, however: A victim of incest may be blocked or frightened to come forward before 20 weeks is up, and such a person would have been forced to travel outside Washington, D.C., to seek an abortion had this bill become law.)

A spokesman for Heck says the congressman has not changed his position on abortion, notwithstanding the vote on HR 3803, and still favors the traditional exceptions. But opposition to abortion certainly doesn’t make up part of Heck’s day-to-day agenda.

Still, Heck’s votes on women’s issues have come up in past campaigns, and they are surfacing again in this one. In addition to Heck’s vote on HR 3803, Bilbray hits him for voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act (he did); voting against requiring insurance companies to provide a vaccine against the HPV, a virus that researchers believe leads to cervical cancer (he said the mandate would drive up insurance costs); and for voting against funding for a rape crisis center and a domestic violence prevention program (he voted against an end-of-session pork bill on fiscal principle).

And Bilbray hits Heck for voting repeatedly to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare. Heck makes no bones about that but has said he wants to replace it with more workable ideas.

“Enough is enough. Nevada needs a vocal advocate that [sic] will protect the interests of our mothers, our daughters, our sisters and our families. I am the candidate to do that,” Bilbray declares.

Perhaps, although attacking Heck on women’s rights didn’t work for then 3rd Congressional District Rep. Dina Titus in 2010, or for Oceguera last year. And while it’s early in the 2014 election cycle, it’s clear Heck’s past votes will be a part of this campaign, too.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.