House Republicans scrambled on Thursday to appease social conservatives after unexpectedly canceling a vote on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed the House easily just two years ago. The bill was expected to sail through the GOP-controlled House on Thursday, the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark abortion-rights decision. But Republican leaders pulled the bill on the eve of the vote after some members of their caucus withdrew support because the rape exception in the bill is too narrow. The legislation requires women to have reported the rape to police in order to invoke the rape exception to the abortion restrictions.
An identical bill in the Senate has not yet received a vote.
“I hope and pray that we can find a way to deal with the current conflict about definitions [of rape], and if we do not, shame on us all," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the sponsor of the Senate bill, told a group of conservatives at the Family Research Council's ProLifeCon on Thursday. "Because this is a debate worth having. We will win if we can focus on the baby at 20 weeks. I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem of rape."
Republicans assured anti-abortion activists that there would still be a vote on the 20-week ban after the legislation is altered to ensure the maximum number of votes. “That bill, I promise you, will be back on the floor very, very shortly,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a strong anti-abortion voice in the House, told reporters Wednesday night.
But those assurances did not quell the anger at Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who is leading the Republican revolt against the bill. Anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek is organizing a protest outside of Ellmers' office on Thursday afternoon. “I’m ready to get arrested,” Stanek said at ProLifeCon.
The North Carolina Values Coalition denounced Ellmers as a traitor on Wednesday. “We are sad to report to you that Congresswoman Renee Ellmers has betrayed the pro-life community,” the group said in a statement on its website.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders quickly substituted a different anti-abortion bill for the House to consider on Thursday as anti-abortion activists from around the country gathered in Washington for the annual March for Life. The new bill prohibits federal funding for abortion.
Democrats mocked Republicans on the House floor Thursday morning for having an "arsenal" of anti-abortion bills from which to choose.
"This trigger-ready alternative came to us late last night," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said. "It seems that the Majority has an endless supply of bills attacking women’s health. Can’t pass this one? Grab another! Can’t pass that one? Grab the next one! Their insistence on attacking women’s health seemingly knows no bounds."
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.