U.S. House Republican leaders abruptly called off a vote on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy following objections by rank-and-file lawmakers in the party, including women.
Instead, party leaders plan a House vote Thursday on a separate measure to ban federal funding for abortion.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders have been unable to unify a party that now has control of both the House and Senate. Republicans are split among those who want to take a hard line on social issues and those who want to appeal to centrist voters and women.
“We should not be looking back into history,” said Representative Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, one of the Republican women who objected to a ban after 20 weeks. “We should be looking forward.”
After Republicans described their plans on the abortion legislation during a Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday night, Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a member of the panel, described a “meltdown” among Republicans.
“It could not get a simple majority,” McGovern said of the ban after 20 weeks. “Now, we have a completely different bill.”
Republicans said the ban, which passed the House in previous years, hasn’t been shelved permanently.
The measure “is only delayed -- it will be up on the floor soon,” said Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, explaining the change during the rules panel meeting.
Smith said the substitute measure, H.R. 7, would make permanent a prohibition on federal funding for abortion services first passed in 1976. The provision is not codified, and is passed each year as part of appropriations legislation.
Republicans are calling for a vote on the measure on Thursday, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The abortion legislation switch came after disputes among Republicans over the ban. One point of contention was over language in the measure allowing exemptions for rape only if an attack was reported to police.
The legislation would have allowed abortions after 20 weeks in cases of incest involving mothers under 18. Some Republicans objected, and said the exemption should apply to all ages.
Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of a House caucus of self-described centrists, said the age limit for the exemption was “unreasonable.”
So intense were some of the discussions during a private meeting among House Republicans Wednesday that staff members were told to leave so lawmakers could talk privately, Dent said in an interview.
The ban after 20 weeks, H.R. 36, is sponsored by Representatives Trent Franks of Arizona and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Franks, in an interview, had predicted the measure would pass overwhelmingly, as it has in the past, even though there was disagreement among Republicans.
“There’s some that want the exemptions taken out entirely; there’s some that want some changes in the exemptions,” Franks said. “We’ve tried to reach the consensus the best we can here and I don’t know what more we can do.”
The ban after 20 weeks stood little chance of Senate passage. The Obama administration said Tuesday the president would veto the measure if it reached his desk.
“Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor,” according to the White House statement.