Health

GOP Congresswomen Revolt Over Definition Of Rape In National Abortion Ban, Leaders Cancel Vote

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In what the Associated Press describes as an “embarrassing setback” for the party, House Republicans have scrapped their plan to vote on a proposed 20-week abortion ban, following opposition from several GOP congresswomen who removed their support from the legislation.

On Thursday, the full House was set to vote on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” or HR 36. The vote was scheduled to coincide with the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a symbolic date that typically galvanizes people on both sides of the abortion debate. The GOP-controlled Congress was expected to easily pass HR 36, despite the fact that President Obama has indicated that he will veto it.

But an internal split over the proposed abortion ban has intensified over the past several days. Last week, several congresswomen began raising concerns that voting on the measure would alienate female voters, pointing out that it includes a very narrow exception for rape victims. As HR 36 is currently written, victims of sexual assault can only claim an exemption to the abortion ban if they reported the incident to the police — even though it’s very rare for rape victims to officially report.

Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) removed their names from HR 36 on Tuesday, and Politico reported that up to two dozen of their GOP colleagues began voicing similar objections to the legislation. Republican leaders were reportedly in talks for most of Wednesday in an attempt to resolve the issue and ensure enough support for the anti-abortion bill.

GOP aides told the Washington Post that they grew wary of the potential “political fallout” from holding a vote on an abortion ban without support from a large number of Republican women. At the last minute, late on the evening before the vote was supposed to take place, Republicans dropped their plans to vote on HR 36.

Democrats who have come out against the 20-week ban were quick to mock the apparent rift across the aisle. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) joked that Republicans suffered “a meltdown” over a piece of legislation that had no trouble passing the House last session. “Maybe we can Xerox your testimony from last year,” McGovern suggested. “We’ve done this before.”

However, Republicans are still eager to hold a vote on anti-choice legislation on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, so the party has simply swapped out the 20-week ban for a different type of proposed abortion restriction.

The House will instead take up HR 7, or the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” — another measure that passed that chamber last year. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds are already prohibited from financing abortion. But HR 7 would go beyond that existing restriction to impose further barriers for abortion coverage in the private market — banning the plans in Obamacare’s new state-level marketplaces from covering abortion, as well as requiring small businesses to pay additional taxes on their health benefits if they offer their employees a plan that covers abortion.

Reproductive rights proponents are celebrating the party’s decision to delay a vote on the proposed 20-week abortion ban, but they’re not exactly pleased about HR 7.

“The GOP drafted a bill so extreme and so out of touch with the voters that even their own membership could not support [it]. That being said, shifting from one bill to restrict a women’s ability to make her own health care choices to another will not solve this political problem for the GOP,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. Hogue criticized HR 7 for its effort to “restrict health care options for women and tax small businesses.”

Maintaining insurance coverage for abortion is becoming one of the most contentious battlegrounds in the fight for reproductive rights. While these type of complicated restrictions on insurance plans typically don’t spark as much national outrage as abortion bans, they effectively cut off low-income women’s access to the procedure by making it too expensive for them to afford.

“They couldn’t sell a ban on later abortions, so instead, under the cover of night they are targeting low-income women,” Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said in a statement in response to the GOP’s last-minute switch. “Why is it more acceptable to go after those who are struggling financially? Shame on them.”