GOP: Abortion bill will be back

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House Republican leaders say they are committed to bringing back a controversial abortion bill that was abruptly pulled from floor consideration late Wednesday.

“We're going to bring this bill back. This is a fight that's not over. We’re going to continue working to get this bill passed,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill on Thursday.

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Scalise was attending the annual March for Life, a rally against abortion rights that is staged every year on the National Mall to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Separately, Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksFive things to watch for at IRS impeachment hearing RSC candidate snags key endorsements Some GOP lawmakers: Trump has a point on Putin MORE (R-Ariz.), one of the sponsors of the pulled bill, said leadership gave him a “word of honor” the measure will get floor action.

The House had been scheduled to vote Thursday on the Franks measure, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But a number of Republican centrists, led by a group of GOP women, threatened to vote against the legislation because it only allowed exceptions for abortions in the case of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger. The rape exemption would only apply if the victim reported the crime to police.

The Justice Department estimates that nearly 70 percent of rapes go unreported, oftentimes due to victims' fear of retribution. Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.), among other GOP lawmakers, argued the bill could hurt the GOP with women and young voters.

In place of the 20-week bill, the House on Thursday approved an alternative bill that would permanently ban the use of federal funds for abortion. That bill was approved 242-179, with one Republican voting against it and three Democrats voting in favor.

One conservative lawmaker told The Hill that a central factor in deciding to pull the original 20-week bill was that Republicans might not have had the votes to defeat a Democratic motion to recommit that would have returned the legislation to committee for additional changes.

Democrats threatened to use the routine procedural vote before final passage to strip out the rape reporting language, and many female Republicans and centrists indicated they would support it, one lawmaker said.

While GOP women led the charge against the original Franks bill, centrist GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania also had urged his colleagues to abandon the legislation during a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday.

“The less we engage on this issue [of rape] the better off we are as a party,” Dent told reporters Thursday, “because a lot of Republicans all around the country have different views on this issue.”

GOP leaders, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Scalise, had been holding members-only meetings all week to discuss concerns with the bill, leadership aides said. 

"At the end of the day, we wanted to have everyone invested in this issue be comfortable and to be part of the process," an aide said.

Members of the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, which works to elect politicians who oppose abortion rights, said they met personally with McCarthy (R-Ca.) on Wednesday night, and that he assured them the GOP would bring the bill back up soon.

“He said he’s committed to bringing it to the floor quickly and we’re going to hold him to that,” said SBA president Marjorie Dannenfelser.

"He made a very strong commitment and I believe him," added former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Co.), who was also in the meeting

Social conservatives sympathized with their female colleagues’ concerns about the Franks bill but still thought the House should have pushed forward.

“I want to save as many babies as we can. … If we can save 100 percent of them, that’s good,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) told The Hill. “This is about a baby that’s 20 weeks old — this is not about something that was done last night.”

But Westmoreland said he wasn’t sure how his own two daughters felt about the legislation, and he understood female lawmakers’ concerns about the requirement that rape victims would be exempted only if they report the crime to authorities.

“I’m not a professional on women’s issues by any chance,” he conceded.

The abortion fight is just the latest example of House Republicans stumbling out of the gates at the start of the 114th Congress.

“Week 1, we had a Speaker election that didn’t go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week 2, we spent a lot of time talking about deporting children, a conversation a lot of us didn’t want to have. Week 3, we’re debating reportable rapes and incest, not an issue that a lot of us want to have a conversation about,” Dent said. “I just can’t wait till Week 4.”

— This story was last updated at 3:13 p.m.