Abortion Bills Paused as GOP Moderates Try to Win Back Women

  • Republicans need pro-women legislative wins, centrists say
  • Effort to shift abortion agenda away from broad bans

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Centrists in the House Republican conference are trying to reshape their party’s agenda on abortion, arguing the GOP needs to appeal more to women.

These lawmakers are trying to ensure the Republican Party’s long-standing goal of restricting abortion access doesn’t interfere with other priorities, or turn into a losing message in the 2024 election cycle. They’ve successfully kept abortion ban bills off the House calendar for months, and garnered promises from leadership to bring forward legislation to address backlogs of rape kits and to bolster access to birth control.

“Before we do the next pro-life bill, which we’re capable of doing, we need to show we care about women,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said, adding she’s started a bipartisan push on child care affordability. “We gotta do both and if we don’t, there’s a lot of members who aren’t coming back next year.”

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Stefani Reynolds/ AFP via Getty Images
Republican Rep. Nancy Mace, shown at the Capitol on May 31, 2023, says her party needs “to show we care about women.”

They’re responding to larger trends on public sentiment roughly one year after the Supreme Court struck down the long-standing federal right to access abortion.

Abortion rights advocates, since the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, have turned back efforts in Kansas to change the state Constitution to declare there’s no right to an abortion, installed an ally on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, and won a special election for a New York House seat on promises to defend access to reproductive care. Gallup, which has surveyed opinions on abortion rights for decades, found last month that a record-high 69% of Americans said abortion should generally be legal in the first three months of pregnancy.

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Mace and other centrists aren’t arguing the party walk away from abortion restrictions entirely, but rather seek to avoid total abortion bans or policies that step too far into personal privacy. Mace herself favors a ban on abortions that take place 15 to 20 weeks after conception, with exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

In January, Republicans passed two abortion-related measures, a bill (H.R. 26) laying out rules for health-care providers caring for a child born after a failed abortion or attempted abortion, and a resolution (H. Con. Res. 3) condemning attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups, and churches.”

What else Republicans can agree on with abortion remains to be seen. In the last Congress, a 20-week abortion ban had 175 supporters in the House, while a 15-week ban had 101 supporters in the House — which would still be short of the votes necessary to get legislation through the chamber.


One bill (H.R. 7) to prohibit the use of federal funding for abortions was originally slated to reach the House floor in January.

But Mace, along with Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) and Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), oppose the measure. Mace said she supports the idea of codifying the long-standing policy of banning federal funds from purchasing abortions, and is a cosponsor. But she opposes where the legislation goes beyond that, prohibiting health plans sold on Obamacare’s marketplace from including coverage for abortion. Chavez-DeRemer opposes the measure entirely, saying abortion issues should be left to individual states.

Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) also said H.R. 7 “needs a couple of tweaks before it gets support from a few of us,” which he said leaders would work to hash out.

The two female lawmakers say enough of their colleagues have similar objections to the bill, as well as other abortion bans, to keep them from reaching the House floor — at least until the party passes more bills they see as pro-woman.

“Post Dobbs, I think the people have spoken in America,” Chavez-DeRemer said, and “as Republicans, we said, ‘This is good to go back to states’ rights.”

Political Concerns

Anti-abortion groups have sought to assuage any political concerns for putting up guardrails. Polling earlier this month by Republican-aligned Tarrance Group found majorities of voters want Congress to prohibit abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and impose parental notification requirements for minors seeking the procedure.

“A year after Dobbs, nearly half the country has laws reflecting the will of the people,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, whose SBA Pro-Life America commissioned the poll. “Americans strongly agree Congress also has a role to play in protecting babies from brutal late-term abortions when they can feel pain.”

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said what’s known as the Hyde Amendment, the ban on federal funding for abortion, is popular. The Tarrance Group poll found that was the case nationwide.

“Hyde’s a winner in any district if you look at the polling,” he said.

One abortion rider that anti-abortion groups backed recently failed on the House floor. Ten Republicans, mainly moderates such as Mace and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), sunk an amendment from Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) that would have extended a measure expanding congressional review of federal regulations (H.R. 277), or REINS Act, to anything related to bolstering abortion access. Republican opponents saw it as a poison pill for the legislation.

Bacon in a statement said he opposed the amendment because it could’ve scuttled the whole bill.

“I am committed to standing up for the unborn and supported the amendment in principle,” he said. “I voted ‘NO’ on the amendment as the amendment would have caused the bill to fail on the floor and we need the REINS Act.”

Trade-offs for GOP

Mace has been trading Republican leadership her vote on their key priorities, from a debt ceiling increase to removing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from her committees, for promised support for legislation she plans introduce this summer to address the backlog of rape kits at police departments, as well as a bill to ensure access to birth control, according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the deals who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

“I’m asking my colleagues: what are we doing for women?” Mace said. “What are we doing to show we’re protecting women?”

Republicans’ internal wrangling was on display as Democrats used the week leading up to the anniversary of Dobbs to highlight their bills protecting access to abortion, and blast Republicans’ plans to restrict it.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said his colleagues will use the forthcoming two-week recess to hold events recalling the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and to accuse Republican members of Congress and presidential candidates of supporting efforts to codify a ban on abortion.

“This isn’t about states’ rights, which is what Republicans have always said,” Aguilar said. “This is about a national ban on abortion.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com; Zach C. Cohen in Washington at zcohen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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