The House of Representatives passed a diluted anti-abortion bill Thursday after Republican leaders shelved a different measure amid protests from women and moderates in the party who complained that it was too restrictive and could hurt the party’s efforts to attract younger and women voters.
With thousands of abortion opponents in Washington to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, House lawmakers voted 242-179 on a measure that would prohibit federal funding for abortion.
It’s a bill that the House passed last year. In addition, a 1976 amendment by the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Il., already prevents the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, of danger to the mother’s life. The Hyde amendment is passed annually and Thursday’s bill would make it permanent.
But Republican abortion foes felt compelled to vote on something after leadership abruptly pulled a bill Wednesday night that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
‘I was fine with the bill either way because the important thing for me as a pro-life person is to make a very strong pro-life statement today with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the march of life here in town today,’ said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. ‘I’m proud of the leadership for bringing to the floor a bill that we can all rally behind.’
The shelved bill, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, contained exceptions to allow abortions after 20 weeks to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, as long as it’s reported to law enforcement.
The exceptions prompted a small group of Republican women, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., to express concerns last week during the House/Senate Republican retreat in Hershey, Pa. Lawmakers who opposed the exceptions cited estimates from the Justice Department and other experts that about 70 percent of rapes go unreported.
‘No question, women members of the conference were quite eloquent about the problem with the reportable rape language,’ said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. ‘It wasn’t just the women, men, too.’
As this week progressed, what started out as a small uprising grew into a large enough revolt that House Republican leadership scrambled Wednesday to find a solution to satisfy unhappy members of their caucus.
They pulled the plug on Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act Wednesday night.
"I think it was in part a vote issue, and certainly an optics issue," Dent said. "The message was not a good message. It became a debate on rape, incest and abortion, or should I say reportable rape and incest. I don’t know if it was moderate or pragmatic members, but there were a lot of women members of Congress who were concerned about the reportable rape language."
Still, Hudson said the concerns of fellow Republicans – Dent estimated at nearly two dozen – caught Republican leaders flatfooted.
"None of us saw it coming," Hudson said. "We voted on the same legislation last year and these concerns weren’t raised so that’s why the leadership didn’t anticipate the concerns being raised, so that’s why I don’t fault them."