WASHINGTON — As thousands of abortion foes surged through the city on their annual protest march to the U.S. 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 by a near party-line 242-179 to permanently bar federal funds for any abortion coverage. The measure would also block tax credits for many people and businesses buying abortion coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
GOP leaders pushed the measure to the House floor hours after abruptly abandoning another bill banning most late-term abortions because 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 the same day that March for Life protesters streamed through town to protest the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. 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 an assault on women’s freedom and painted Republicans as trying to placate the marchers not far from the Capitol.
“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 Obama’s 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 decision legalizing abortion. It also came with GOP leaders eager to showcase the ability of the new Republican-led Congress to govern efficiently and avoid gridlock.
The bill that was postponed would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy but allow exemptions for some victims of rape or incest and in cases when a woman’s life was in danger. GOP leaders ran into problems because some GOP women and other lawmakers objected that the rape and incest exemptions covered only women who had reported the crimes to authorities.
Those rebellious Republicans argued that that requirement put unfair pressure on women who had 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. GOP leaders had resisted the awkwardness of postponing a high-profile abortion vote scheduled for the day of the anti-abortion march. But 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.
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.