- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2015

While tens of thousands of pro-life marchers teemed the streets outside the Capitol, the House voted Thursday to cement a ban on taxpayer funding for abortions under Obamacare.

Republican leaders had hoped to deliver much more to the marchers — a groundbreaking vote on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, or the point at which some scientists say a fetus can feel pain. But divisions within the party caused them to squelch that bill at the last minute and replace it with the taxpayer-funding measure, which has cleared the House.

Pro-life lawmakers vowed to return to the 20-week ban soon, once they work out exceptions for women who are raped. But in the meantime, they said the Obamacare funding ban should be a signal that the new Republican-led Congress intends to move pro-life legislation when it can.

“When there is disagreement, we should pause and listen closely,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “When there is movement, we should rejoice, and the House‘s vote to ban taxpayer funding of abortion is cause for doing so.”

The vote broke mostly along party lines, 242-179, with three Democrats voting for the funding ban and one Republican voting against it. Just four years ago, similar legislation won the support of 16 House Democrats, and the drop in support from them signals just how ideologically concentrated both parties have become.

Mr. Obama has vowed to veto the abortion funding bill should it reach his desk.

He also has promised to veto the 20-week ban, but before it gets to his desk, Republicans will have to solve internal divisions.

A “vast majority” of women in the House GOP caucus had reservations about imposing the reporting requirement on women who had been victimized, a Republican aide said.

Needing to pass some legislation Thursday, timed to the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision establishing a national right to abortion, and to give a nod to the March for Life going on outside the Capitol, GOP leaders switched gears late Wednesday and went with the funding bill instead.

Rep. Trent Franks, the Arizona Republican who sponsored the 20-week bill, called the swap-out “one of the most disappointing moments of my life.”

“But I am convinced that leadership did this not out of any sort of snub or any sort of lack of commitment to the cause,” he said outside the House chamber. “And however I might have disagreed with their actions, I believe that they came from noble intent.”

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana blasted House leaders for their “retreat” on the bill, while disappointed pro-life activists urged House and Senate leaders not to back down in the future.

The last-minute maneuver allowed Democrats to mock the GOP majority as rudderless and tone-deaf on women’s issues.

Republican leaders should be focused on jobs and infrastructure, they said, instead of reviving abortion measures that could not get traction in the last Congress.

“They’re not even trying,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said at her weekly press conference.

The initial bill, titled the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” would have advanced a top priority for pro-life groups — a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, or the time at which the bill declared fetuses are able to feel pain.

House Republicans had passed a 20-week ban before, in 2013, but the legislation didn’t clear the Democratic-led Senate. Now that the GOP controls the Senate, backers hope for a better outcome.

The legislation included limited exceptions for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest or that were necessary to prevent the mother’s life from being endangered. But the rape and incest exceptions only applied to reported cases of those sex crimes.

Rep. Renee L. Ellmers, a North Carolina Republican who objected to the language even as she supported the overall bill, said on social media late Wednesday that said she’ll work with colleagues to “address our concerns.”

“Our goal is to find a way to get this legislation in its best possible form, and I remain fully committed to bringing this legislation to the House floor for a vote,” she said following Thursday’s vote.

It is unclear how long it will take Republicans to come to a consensus. GOP leaders have assured Mr. Franks they will move the bill again, although he did not ask for a specific timetable.

It’s also unclear what Mr. Franks would be willing to change. He simply said he’s interested in protecting “the most pain-capable babies and their mothers.”

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, defended the speedy path that a replacement bill took to the floor Thursday, noting the chamber passed a similar measure last year.

He cited a government audit last fall that discovered several inconsistencies in how state-run Obamacare exchanges charged for abortion services. In some cases they failed to bill abortion fees separately to ensure that public subsidies didn’t pay for the procedure.

Mr. Smith said the audit proved their worst fears about the overhaul — that it covered “abortion on demand.”

Abortion coverage was a thorny issue when Democrats were writing the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, and it almost blocked passage of the bill in the House when pro-life Democrats balked at the prospect of taxpayer subsidies for abortions in the national health law.

Mr. Obama finally promised an executive order vowing to follow the “Hyde” prohibition.

Democrats said the administration took steps to clarify Obamacare’s rules on abortion, rendering Thursday’s bill unnecessary.

“This bill,” Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter of New York said, “was taken out of the used-bill freezer last night at 9 o’clock.”

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