As thousands of abortion foes surged through the city on their annual protest march to the Supreme Court, Republicans muscled legislation through the House on Thursday tightening federal restrictions on abortions. The vote came after internal divisions forced them into an embarrassing fumble of a similar bill.
Even as a White House veto threat all but ensured the bill would never become law, the House voted 242-179 to permanently bar federal funds for any abortion coverage. The measure would also block tax credits for many people and businesses buying accessing abortion coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law.
GOP leaders hurriedly pushed the measure to the House floor hours after abruptly abandoning another bill banning most late-term abortions after a rebellion led by female Republican lawmakers left them short of votes.
While that stumble underscored the challenges GOP leaders face in controlling their newly enlarged House majority, they were eager to act on the same day that March for Life protesters streamed through town to protest the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
"I urge my colleagues to stand with the hundreds of thousands of people out on the Mall right now by voting for this bill," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "Stand up and commit to creating an America that values every life."
Democrats accused the GOP of yet another assault on women's freedom and painted Republicans as if they were merely trying to placate the marchers within hearing range.
"They certainly wanted to appeal, I would say pander, to that group," said Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill.
"Women's rights should not be theater, should not be drama," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.
The approved bill would permanently ban the use of federal money for nearly all abortions — a prohibition that's already in effect but which Congress must renew each year.
It would also go further. The bill would bar individuals and many employers from collecting tax credits for insurance plans covering abortion that they pay for privately and purchase through exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. It would also block the District of Columbia from using its money to cover abortions for lower-income women.
The House had approved the same measure last year but it went nowhere in the Senate, then run by Democrats. Its fate in this year's GOP-led Senate is uncertain.
In its veto message, the White House said, "The administration strongly opposes legislation that unnecessarily restricts women's reproductive freedom and consumers' private insurance options."
The action came the day of the annual March for Life protesting the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. It also came with GOP leaders eager to showcase the ability by the new Republican-led Congress to govern efficiently and avoid gridlock.
The bill that was postponed would have allowed exemptions to the late-term abortion ban for victims of rape or incest and in cases when a woman's life was in danger. But GOP leaders ran into problems because some GOP women and other lawmakers objected that the rape and incest exemptions only covered women who had already reported the crimes to authorities.
The rebellious Republicans argued that that requirement put unfair pressure on women who have already suffered. A 2013 Justice Department report calculated that only 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police.
Political pressures cut both ways. Leaders had resisted the awkwardness of postponing a high-profile abortion vote scheduled for the day of the anti-abortion march. And they didn't want to push anti-abortion legislation through the House that was opposed by GOP women, especially as the party tries appealing to more female voters ahead of the 2016 elections.
Yet when the leaders considered eliminating the requirement that rapes and incest be previously reported, they encountered objections from anti-abortion groups, Republican aides said. They chose not to anger that powerful GOP constituency.
The bill had virtually no chance of becoming law, thanks to opposition from President Barack Obama and an uncertain fate in the Senate, where anti-abortion sentiment is less pronounced. Even so, Republicans consider the bill an important statement of their priorities and a show of support for a vital issue for conservatives.
Supporters named their measure the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. But Democrats touted arguments by doctors' groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which have cited research indicating that fetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester, which starts around the 28th week.
A report Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, citing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that about 10,000 abortions annually are performed 20 weeks or later into pregnancies. The budget office estimated that if the bill became law, three-fourths of those abortions would instead occur before the 20th week.
© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.