WASHINGTON -- House Republicans Wednesday night yanked a piece of anti-abortion legislation that was designed to be a messaging bill and stood no chance of ever becoming law. The bill, which would have banned abortion after a fetus is 20 weeks old, faced opposition from Republican women and moderates who raised concerns about a rape provision upsetting millennial and female voters, according to reports.
Instead, Republicans will vote on a bill that bans the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion. The House Rules Committee called a late-night meeting on Wednesday to make the quick substitution and allow the House to vote on Thursday. “This legislation is the result of ongoing discussions with members of our conference, my hope is that this legislation will address the concerns of our members and go forward,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the Rules Committee.
House Republicans are intent on holding an anti-abortion vote on Thursday because of the significance of the date -- the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Anti-abortion activists will also hold their annual March For Life in the shadow of the Capitol on Thursday.
But Republican women complained about the 20-week abortion ban legislation, objecting to provisions that required a woman to report her rape to authorities in order to qualify for an exemption of the ban, according to CNN. Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers and Marsha Blackburn, a lead cosponsor of the bill, gave impassioned pleas to fellow members to abandon the rape provision, according to National Journal.
“The bill led to a meltdown in your conference and you realized you couldn’t get a simple majority on the floor,” Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern said during the Rules Committee meeting. “Clearly something went awry in your conference.”
It isn’t the first time that Republicans have had to scramble to save legislation that should have sailed through the chamber but instead hit a brick wall within the GOP. But it may be the first time the party has been divided on an issue that is a bedrock part of their platform. The latest incident is sure to upset the party's right wing, where many have been leery that Republican leadership won't fight for the conservative agenda. If House Speaker John Boehner is beginning to take into account complaints from more moderate members, it could help ignite the intra-party fighting that has been simmering below the surface.
But unlike previous battles within the Republican conference, this one came from the moderate wing, which has often found itself powerless amid internal struggles.
"I prefer that we avoid these very contentious social issues," moderate Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania told National Journal. "Week one, we had a speaker election that did not go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we got into a big fight over deporting children, something that a lot of us didn't want to have a discussion about. Week three, we are now talking about rape and incest and reportable rapes and incest for minors. … I just can't wait for week four."
Neither piece of legislation stands any chance of being signed into law. The White House already issued a veto threat for the 20-week abortion ban. And President Barack Obama has consistently pointed out that he won’t sign any legislation that curbs women’s access to abortion.
The new piece of legislation goes after taxpayer-funded abortions, which are already greatly limited under existing federal law and provisions of the spending legislation that was signed into law last year. The new bill would also curb the ability for health plans created under the Affordable Care Act to pay for abortions. Republicans have argued that because some plans are subsidized by taxpayer subsidies, it amounts to paying for abortions with tax dollars.
But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., insisted that the legislation isn't dead, but just being reworked to address concerns. “That bill, I promise you, will be back on the floor very, very shortly,” Smith said.