The new House Republican majority is battling to unify on the issue of abortion less than a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Unity was on display Wednesday when Republicans approved two anti-abortion measures with unanimous GOP votes.
But beneath the surface, there is discomfort, as some GOP lawmakers worry the party is in danger of losing suburban women by taking too extreme a position on abortion while not addressing other reproductive issues.
“We learned nothing from the midterms if this is how we’re going to operate in the first week,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who voted for both measures, told reporters on Tuesday. “Millions of women across the board were angry over overturning Roe v. Wade.”
The votes come as the GOP is still unpacking how it performed below expectations in the midterm elections.
Polls consistently showed abortion as one of the top issues for voters and a in half-dozen referendum votes related to abortion, the side that favored more protections for the procedure prevailed. Earlier this month, former President Trump blamed the “abortion issue” for GOP losses, and “especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother.”
While proposed Republican legislation and messaging now regularly includes support for those exceptions, Mace argues the GOP should do more to embrace pregnancy prevention and healthcare access.
“We’re doing a huge disservice to women around the country by taking on the bills we voted on today and not tackling something like access to birth control,” Mace told reporters after the vote.
“I’m in a place where I want to find where we can figure out how to balance women’s rights and balance the right to life. And I’m for life, with all the exceptions,” Mace said. “But I also know that this is an issue that people care about, and 90 percent of the country isn’t with the fringes. And that’s not where we need to go. We’ve got to be very middle-of-the-road, find some middle ground on this issue.”
Mace, who has shared her story of surviving rape as a teen, broke with the bulk of her colleagues last year to vote for a Democratic bill to protect access to contraception. She wore a jacket as a statement to the vote: “My state is Banning EXCEPTIONS Protect CONTRACEPTION.”
Mace also brought up concerns about states prohibiting abortions, even in cases of fatal deformities to the fetus or when the mother’s life is in danger, on MSNBC Wednesday.
The House on Wednesday passed the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” a bill to require health care providers to provide life-saving care to infants born alive after attempted abortions.
Democrats argue the “Born Alive” bill is unnecessary because of a 2002 law, the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” that defined a person as anyone born at any stage of development under federal law. Republicans said that federal law does not go far enough to outline standards of care.
It also adopted a resolution that condemns acts of vandalism and violence directed at antiabortion pregnancy centers, groups, and churches, without making mention of attacks directed at abortion clinics.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) has also said that the House will vote on a bill to permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services.
Neither of the bills will make it through the Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone be signed by President Biden. But even though antiabortion legislation is doomed in the current Congress, actions that a GOP House takes now will help set the groundwork for steps they can take if they gain unified control of Washington, and set the tone for the 2024 presidential campaign.
GOP leaders, though, have not yet committed to bring up national abortion restrictions that they previously proposed when they controlled the chamber.
The House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, under Republican control in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Lead sponsor Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) modified the bill in the last Congress to ban abortion after 15 weeks rather than 20 weeks, and he told The Hill that he plans to reintroduce it in this Congress.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a moderate who joined Mace in voting for the bill to protect access to contraception last year, said that he expects there will not be other anti-abortion bills brought to the floor in this Congress.
“I will tell you this: There’s a group of us that are going to make sure that we’re focusing on things that people care about, and why they elected this majority. And they need to focus on districts, you know, like Nancy Mace’s, for example, who’s been very outspoken about this,” Fitzpatrick said.
But Smith said that he did not think the midterm elections will make it harder to bring up his antiabortion bills over the next two years, saying that the more members speak with “kindness” and “civility” on the issue, the more “people will be persuaded.”
“I welcome the national debate on abortion. We’ve never had it. We’ve always had little narrow views about, ‘Okay, funding this, that,’” Smith said. “We need a national debate on abortion, and for once a recognition and respect for [those] innocent children.”
And lack of commitments from leadership is not stopping the staunchest anti-abortion advocates from pressing forward with proposals for federal restrictions.
On Wednesday, Reps. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Smith, and Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) reintroduced the “Heartbeat Protection Act,” a bill to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. The bill does have exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. It has 62 original cosponsors.
“While lives are being saved thanks to the Dobbs victory, in states like California and New York, countless unborn babies and their mothers still suffer the violence of abortion,” Marilyn Musgrave, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s vice president of government affairs, said in a statement about the bill’s re-introduction. “It is time we had a minimum federal standard, in line with science and compassion.”