GOP Leaders Pull Abortion Ban on Female Members' Revolt

Faced with an intraparty rift over a 20-week abortion ban, House Republican leaders Wednesday night replaced the bill with a measure that would prohibit federally funded abortions and resembles a plan that was approved by the chamber during the 113th Congress.

The House Rules Committee approved, 7-1, a closed rule (H Res 42) for a bill that would make permanent an annual appropriations amendment to block federal funding for any abortion services.

House leaders originally planned a largely symbolic vote on a bill (HR 36) to ban most abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy to coincide with Thursday's annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C., and the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. But a bloc of some two dozen GOP holdouts, a large portion of them women, opposed certain provisions in the ban and signaled late Wednesday that they would oppose it.

“The bill led to a meltdown in your conference and you realized it couldn’t even get a simple majority on the House floor, so now we’re tossing the first bill out the window and replacing it with a completely unrelated abortion bill,” said Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

At issue was language in the 20-week ban to provide an exception for rape and incest, but only if the incidents were reported to the authorities and only if the incest had been committed by a minor.

Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Jackie Walorski of Indiana withdrew their co-sponsorship of the measure, although Walorski wrote in a Facebook post that she still intended to vote for the ban, as she did in 2013.

The ban was viewed as a long shot in the Senate, where supporters appeared to lack the votes to overcome a filibuster. The White House also threatened to veto the measure, saying it “demonstrates a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting.” The House Pro-Choice Caucus said in a news release that “women in the GOP conference are rebelling against GOP leadership over the offensive language.”

Instead, the House on Thursday will vote on a bill sponsored by Christopher H. Smith in a move designed to appease anti-abortion advocates pressing for legislative action during the March for Life rally. The New Jersey Republican said the measure, among other things, would ensure that insurance plans purchased on health law exchanges would not use federal funds for abortion services.

A similar bill by Smith passed the House, 227-188, in January 2014, with six Democrats voting yes and one Republican voting no.

Smith added that the 20-week abortion ban bill is “only delayed” and will still be considered on the House floor. “Just working through some bits,” he said.