In an embarrassing setback, House Republicans abruptly decided Wednesday to drop planned debate of a bill that would criminalize virtually all late-term abortions after objections from GOP women and other lawmakers left them short of votes.
The decision came on the eve of the annual March for Life, when thousands of antiabortion demonstrators stream to Washington to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. It also came with GOP leaders eager to show unity and an ability by the new Republican-led Congress to govern efficiently.
Republican leaders had planned that the House would pass the legislation on Thursday. It would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
But they ran into objections from women and other Republican lawmakers unhappy that the measure limited exemptions for victims of rape or incest only to those who had previously reported those incidents to authorities.
The rebellious lawmakers argued that put unfair pressure on women who often feel shame or fear retaliation if they report those assaults.
“The issue becomes, we're questioning the woman's word,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) said in an interview. “We have to be compassionate to women when they're in a crisis situation.”
A 2013 Justice Department report calculated that just 35% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police.
GOP leaders also were running into objections from antiabortion groups, which objected to eliminating the reporting requirement.
After meeting repeatedly with female lawmakers and others who were unhappy with the measure, leaders decided late Wednesday to postpone that debate indefinitely.
Instead, the House will debate legislation Thursday that would ban taxpayer funding for abortion — a prohibition that is already largely in effect.