The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House Republicans approve antiabortion bills after daunting midterm

One measure has no legislative impact and Democrats argued the other is unnecessary because of current law

An antiabortion supporter sits in front of the Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Miss., on July 6. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
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House Republicans addressed abortion Wednesday for the first time in their new role controlling the chamber, passing two pieces of legislation with their razor-thin majority.

The votes come after the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court last summer, which factored heavily into voter behavior in the November midterms, particularly in states where abortion issues were on the ballot. Voters in several states rejected antiabortion measures, while other states voted to codify abortion protections into law.

The House adopted a resolution in a 222-209 vote, which carries no legislative weight, that condemns attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups and churches.” Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) were the only Democrats to support the measure.

“This resolution is straightforward,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “This is a resolution that says we appreciate the good work that happens at crisis pregnancy centers where they take in women, where they help them and help that unborn child so that unborn child gets to experience the gift of life.”

Democrats countered that abortion providers have been under attack for decades, noting specifically the murder of physician George Tiller in Kansas in 2009. In silent protest, a majority of Democratic women wore white before and during the vote, a sign of support for women’s rights stemming from a nod to the suffragette movement.

“If you’re going to put a resolution out on violence against churches and fake pregnancy centers, why are we not also addressing violence against abortion providers and violence in general, right?” said Mini Timmaraju, the head of prominent abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The House also passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in a 220-210 vote, which is aimed at compelling doctors to provide care to infants who survive an attempted abortion, a situation that is rare. Some experts say there were already protections for infants included in a 2002 law and even before that established infants have the rights of a full person. The legislation adds new penalties, including fines or imprisonment of up to five years for health-care providers who do not comply.

When the bill passed, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who sponsored it, looked visibly emotional as she received a hug from Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) She then victoriously lifted the legislation in her hand and waved it around as her colleagues clapped.

The Senate, however, is not expected to take up the legislation.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), an antiabortion Democrat who won a contentious primary runoff race last year, was the only Democrat who voted for the legislation, but was against the resolution condemning attacks on antiabortion facilities.

“I agree with protecting the pro-life facilities, but I’m one of those, ‘Hey, make it balanced. You should include also abortion clinics,’" he said after leaving the House floor.

The proposals under consideration Wednesday are more measured than the legislation Republican leaders had seriously considered introducing had they won a larger majority in the midterms. Besides the legislation on survivors of attempted abortion, leaders had considered introducing Rep. Christopher H. Smith’s (R-N.J.) bill that would “ban the use of federal funds for abortions or for health coverage that includes abortions” — often referred to as the Hyde Amendment — and prohibit abortions from being performed at federal health-care facilities or by a federal employee.

Smith, who ran for Congress in 1980 to overturn Roe v. Wade, said he believes there will be a vote on the measure potentially in a few weeks.

Leaders had also considered voting on Smith’s abortion ban legislation, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, early in the legislative session. The bill, which Smith has repeatedly introduced, had been rewritten to ban abortions beginning at 15 weeks, down from 20, following the rollback of Roe. But the legislation was met with fierce criticism after Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the Senate counterpart ahead of the midterms, which angered Republicans who feared that discussing abortion ahead of November could negatively influence voters who had yet to decide which party to cast their ballots for.

The bill has not been put on a House schedule yet and was pulled from consideration in 2015 under a Republican majority because several lawmakers believed the exception provision went too far.

Smith said he plans to introduce his bill banning abortion after 15 weeks again, though it’s unclear whether House Republican leaders will decide to bring it to the floor.

“I think they’re for it, but they haven’t said yes or no," Smith said of Republican leadership.

The House GOP is starting with the “very basic minimum,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, adding she believes Democrats should also sign onto this legislation.

“Would I have liked to see a more aggressive prevention act introduced and voted on? Absolutely,” she said.

Abortion rights groups labeled the legislation as “deliberately misleading and offensive.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the measures take decisions out of doctors’ hands, forcing clinicians “to administer interventions even when there is no chance of survival.”

“Let’s be clear: Doctors are already required to provide appropriate medical care by law,” Jacqueline Ayers, a senior vice president at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

The two votes Wednesday are expected to get overwhelming support by Republicans, who earlier in the week voted against the Democrats’ Roe codification bill Monday evening.

To counter the bill on infant survivors of attempted abortion, Democrats will force a vote on a motion by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) that would prohibit government restrictions on abortion care. It is expected to fail.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), a rape survivor, has become the most outspoken Republican woman in the conference as the party debates abortion-related measures. Unlike most Republicans, Mace routinely talked about the need for Congress to pass federal exceptions to abortion bans that would protect women who were sexual assault victims. In a state where the right to an abortion is now under threat, she won by roughly 15 points in November.

“Some of those measures, like my state, want to ban exceptions. Over my dead body. It’s not going to happen,” Mace said in an interview last month. “We’ve got to revisit what we’re going to do post Roe. What can we as Congress do to find some common ground and find that balance?”

In her first floor speech since being elected, freshman Rep. Hillary J. Scholten (D-Mich.) said she opposed the Born-Alive legislation by citing a traditionally Republican argument: it forces the federal government into the doctor’s office.

“As a pro-choice Christian who chose life, this issue is so personal to me,” she said after recalling a miscarriage she had. “My faith informs my actions but it doesn’t dictate the policy of an entire nation.”

Since Roe was overturned, House GOP women signaled that winning back the majority would give them the opportunity to influence reproductive health policies even though most strayed away from the exceptions question. Most said that wanting to introduce legislation that was “pro-family,” like addressing maternal health access in rural areas, where women often drive significant distance to get care, and redirecting state funds toward online portals that connect families in need to organizations that can provide child-care-related services, such as churches, foster care and donation centers.

It’s common for Republicans, when they’re in the majority, to vote on antiabortion bills around the time of March for Life, an annual abortion protest in late January typically on or around the anniversary of when Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973. The effort is aimed at showing unity before the Jan. 20 rally, the first in a post-Roe America, where over a dozen states now restrict the procedure.

“Our government’s most sacred duty is to safeguard the lives of all Americans,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA Pro-Life America, said in a statement. “We thank GOP leadership for recognizing the federal government’s crucial role in protecting our most vulnerable children and their mothers in the Dobbs era.”

Yet, the policies are a far cry from the full list of legislation many antiabortion and conservative leaders want newly empowered House Republicans to pursue. In a recent letter to Congress, more than three dozen groups urged a federal ban on abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which typically occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, among other demands.

After Roe was overturned, the House Democratic majority held a series of votes meant to put Republicans in an uncomfortable spot and get them on record opposing abortion and reproductive health measures ahead of the midterms, such as protecting access to contraception. Now, Republicans are attempting to turn the tables.

“I think there’s been a sense in national politics that the Republicans’ position on abortion is too extreme,” said Mary Ziegler, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis. “I think this is the Republican Party trying to say, ‘Oh, no, actually, we’re not the ones who are extreme, look at the vote on this bill.’”

Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America

In June 2022 the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion. Read the full decision here.

What happens now? The legality of abortion is left to individual states. The Post is tracking states where abortion is banned or under threat, as well as Democratic-dominated states that moved to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

Abortion pills: Abortion advocates are concerned a Texas judge’s upcoming abortion pill ruling could halt over half the legal abortions carried out nationwide. Here’s how the ruling could impact access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Post-Roe America: With Roe overturned, women who had secret abortions before Roe v. Wade felt compelled to speak out. Other women, who were and seeking abortions while living in states with strict abortion bans shared also shared their experience with The Post through calls, text messages and other documentation that supported their accounts. Here are photos and stories from across America since the reversal of Roe v. Wade.