Congressman Authors Pro-Life Legislation, Gets Snubbed From Credit Last Minute

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter
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A pro-life bill spearheaded by Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana was taken out his hands and given to Rep. Diane Black to introduce despite having authored the legislation, a number of sources told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Fleming spent years working on The Conscience Protection Act , which aims to ensure medical practitioners who opt against providing abortions receive legal protection. He introduced a version of the bill with Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri in March. The measure, which overwhelmingly passed the House Wednesday, was then offered as a substitute amendment to the Senate’s Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower legislation with Black at the helm.

“It was taken from me, it was a bill that I had since 2011,” Fleming told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Congressman Fortenberry and I merged together two bills that we had, this being one of them, and let a freshman back in 2010 or 2011, Diane Black, take it to see if she could go with it, but it didn’t go any place.”

Fleming said a group of Catholic bishops reached out in 2015 asking him to reintroduce an adjusted version of the bill, which he did in 2016. The measure then started to garner wide support across the Republican conference.

“Leadership really got interested in moving forward with it, they wanted to change the name from the Abortion Nondiscrimination Act to what it is today, The Conscience Protection Act, and also a few more adjustments on the language – and we did that, so it was basically perfected and ready to go,” Fleming continued. “And I know that the speaker, it was very important to him, he tried to put it in the omnibus last year, but we couldn’t get Obama to go along with it, so anyway, he finally decided to move it, but then I was informed just before that they were taking it out of my hands and giving it to someone else.”

The Lousiana Republican said he’s disappointed to see the credit given to Black since he’s long been passionate about passing the measure.

“My understanding is they [Black] lobbied them heavily. When we took our language and recreated the bill, she declined to cosponsor the bill – so she was not a cosponsor until it actually was changed and put into someone else’s hands,” he said.

Black’s office disputed the claim, saying she has supported the legislation since 2013 when it was initially introduced by Fleming. She worked with pro-life groups to fine-tune the bill, having reintroduced it with Fleming and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in 2015.

“Earlier this year, Congressman Fleming introduced the more narrowly tailored Conscience Protection Act, which represented roughly half of the bill that he cosponsored with Congressman Black. Congressman Black did not cosponsor the legislation because she believed that, if Congress wanted to bring such a bill to the floor, a more appropriate solution would be to simply amend her bill – which had the support of over 160 cosponsors and the support of numerous pro-life organizations – rather than introduce a new bill altogether,” Jonathan Frank, Black’s communications director, told TheDCNF in an email.

A congressional aide close to the situation told TheDCNF a number of moderate members were pushing for the change due to Fleming’s primary race against Rep. Charles Boustany for the Louisiana Senate seat vacated by Sen. David Vitter. The staffer alleged moderate members didn’t want the House Freedom Caucus member to get the credit for the widely supported legislation in fear it would give him a boost in the race.

Fleming said he was only given minor explanations for the last-minute change.

“I know leadership said they didn’t want to be biased,” a GOP aide told TheDCNF. “Black kind of turned loose and wrote an op-ed claiming she had done all the work on the bill, which was upsetting.”

Leadership said the reasoning behind who introduced the legislation was not politically motivated and was discussed with all parties involved in advance.

“That’s not accurate. Rep. Fleming has done excellent work on this important issue, but Rep. Black has as well. There can only be one lead sponsor, and Speaker Ryan had a good conversation with Rep. Fleming before moving forward,” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong told TheDCNF in an email. “The speaker praised him in his remarks on the floor during the bill’s consideration.”

Black’s office praised the bill’s passage, saying it’s a huge win for the party.

“As a registered nurse and a longtime pro-life leader, the most important thing to Congressman Black is to see this language enacted into law, regardless of who carries the bill or how it get there,” Frank said. “We know that Congressman Fleming and others in the pro-life community who have worked so hard on this issue are pleased as well.”

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