House Republicans on Thursday passed an alternative anti-abortion bill after pulling their originally planned legislation from the floor in a last-minute scramble.
The new bill, unveiled less than 24 hours earlier, would prohibit taxpayer funding for abortion. Passage fell largely along party lines by a vote of 242-179. Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.) was the only Republican to oppose the measure, while three Democrats — Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), Dan Lipinski (Ill.) and Collin Peterson (Minn.) — voted in favor of it.
But leadership yanked the original measure slated for a vote after complaints from House GOP women and centrists who objected to language granting the victims of rape an exception from the ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy only if the rape was reported to police.
GOP women led by Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.) lobbied leadership to change the rape language. The Justice Department estimates that nearly 70 percent of rapes go unreported, often due to victims' fear of retribution.
It’s not clear whether the bill could have passed the House without being changed.
One conservative GOP lawmaker told The Hill that a threatened procedural vote from Democrats might have been approved. The Democratic motion to recommit would have stripped the rape reporting language from the bill, and many GOP women and centrists were prepared to join Democrats in backing it, the lawmaker said.
“The only thing that I can guess is the leadership would be embarrassed if a motion to recommit actually passed,” the lawmaker said.
Leadership denied the threat played into their decision, but Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksGOP braces for Trump’s T infrastructure push Trump backers lack Ryan alternative Speaker Ryan tries new Trump strategy: Ignore him MORE (R-Ariz.), one of the initial bill's sponsors, acknowledged the procedural vote could have resulted in surprises.
“It's hard for me — obviously, for anyone — to predict what the motion to recommit would have been or what would have been the action in that regard,” Franks said.
Franks said the legislation he originally introduced only allowed an exception for the life of the mother. Language regarding rape and incest was added later during preparations to bring it to the floor, he said.
“I think there's a lot of people that have the conviction that sexual assault should be reported so that we can prosecute them and put them in jail, and reduce that unspeakable tragedy,” Franks said.
Franks said that GOP leaders gave him a “word of honor” that his bill will eventually get a floor vote.
GOP women led the charge against the original Franks bill, but centrist GOP Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) also had urged his colleagues to abandon the legislation during Wednesday’s closed-door caucus meeting.
“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.”
The alternative legislation sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) that restricts federal funds for abortion also passed a year ago by a vote of 227-188.
The issue gained ground last fall after a federal audit found that more than 1,000 healthcare plans with federal subsidies allowed women to pay for abortions. While the report did not say how many abortions had actually been funded by the plans, the issue became an instant rallying cry for conservatives.
Federal officials said then that some of the compliance issues result from a misunderstanding between states and insurance providers. The Department of Health and Human Services also tried to ease concerns with new regulations about how funds for abortions should be separated.
Nearly 6 in 10 women are already barred from obtaining abortion insurance on ObamaCare exchanges because they live in states that have banned that coverage within their system or do not have an insurer that offers it, according to a report released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A total of 32 states have enacted the bans.
“H.R. 7 will save lives,” Smith said during the floor debate. “These are gruesome procedures. That's what abortion is all about.”
Democrats argued that the legislation would go further than current law by preventing women receiving federal tax credits toward their insurance, as well as plans through the healthcare law's exchanges, from getting coverage for abortion services. The bill would also prevent the District of Columbia from using local funds to pay for abortions.
“These choices are personal. They are not public. A woman’s actions regarding her own reproductive health should include anyone she deems appropriate, not the politicians in Washington or state capitals that are scoring political points off of her healthcare,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.
Abortion rights groups are already seizing on the split in the Republican Party. The head of Planned Parenthood Action Fund said the GOP's reversal on the abortion bill is proof that the issue — crucial to conservatives — is losing ground.
“These attacks are so dangerous, extreme, and unpopular that House Republicans can't even get their membership lined up behind them,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, wrote in a statement.
Meanwhile, advocacy groups opposed to abortion expressed disappointment with the last-minute vote switch.
“While I am disappointed that Rep. Renee Ellmers and a handful of Republicans caused a delay in the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, I commend the House leadership for their efforts to get taxpayers out of the abortion business,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement. “We look forward to the House returning to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child bill later this year.”
Sarah Ferris and Scott Wong contributed.