Whether they like it or not, a major fight over abortion is landing on Republicans’ doorsteps Thursday. It’s the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights. It’s the day after House GOP leaders pulled an antiabortion bill off the floor after pushback from members of their own party. And it’s the day of the March for Life, an annual antiabortion rally that has drawn tens of thousands of participants, on the National Mall.
The House was scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday afternoon, around the same time as the march. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which some say a fetus can feel pain, and which abortion-rights advocates dispute. Some Republicans worried that the measure would alienate millennials and female voters, two groups the party already has trouble reaching. And many female lawmakers were outraged at a provision that stated women can be exempt from the 20-week ban in cases of rape only if they reported the rape to law enforcement.
So, what does this mean for the March for Life? “There’s not any hope dimmed today,” March for Life President Jeanne Monahan told National Journal before the rally, adding that she doesn’t think the dynamic of the event will change. House leadership had alerted march organizers that the bill was going to be dropped, but this wasn’t what abortion opponents had in mind.
“We’re disappointed, as you can imagine,” Monahan said. “We’re really disappointed that that happened.”
But Monahan’s sense of optimism wasn’t shared by many of the marchers on the Mall.
Some participants at the march had not heard about the bill being pulled. Patti Smith, who was there with about 20 members of Voice of Truth, a nondenominational church in Arlington, Ga., was surprised. All she wants, she said, is to “stop abortion.”
Stephanie Kern of Virginia was not happy when told about Republicans dropping the bill. “I’m going to kick their tails,” she said.
Kern had two abortions as a teenager. She was raped when she was 15 and became pregnant with her daughter, Loni, 16, who was at the march with her. Kern said she understood women lawmakers’ concerns about the bill’s rape provision. After all, she didn’t file a police report when it happened. “I would have been painted as the biggest harlot in county,” if she had, she said.
Kern said she believes a GOP Congress could successfully push antiabortion legislation, but she’s not getting her hopes up. “I can only put my hope in one entity,” she said. Kern turned to Christianity around the time she was pregnant with Loni. “But it’s a greater hope than we had last year.”
Chris Lesher was there leading a group of 17 high school students from Marist High School in Chicago. This was his 10th march, and he didn’t know about the House vote, either. “Hearing about it for the first time, my reaction is curiosity,” he said. “To me, it’s not an issue of Republicans and Democrats. Let’s stand up for life.”
David O’Brien, who came to the march from Chicago, said, “We worked hard for legislation to protect life. But working through legislation is hard in this country.”
Joe Haertel, of Arlington, Va., said he’s not hopeful that any legislation could pass under this president, regardless of the GOP-controlled Congress.
“We can push for pro-life legislation,” said Haertal, who has attended the rally for 39 consecutive years,” but I don’t think any will be passed while Obama is president. “
There were also scores of high-school age participants on the Mall, standing huddled together in tight circles against the wind. A 16-year-old boy walked through the crowd handing out posters as part of a community-service requirement for his school.
With the 20-week ban legislation out, the House decided to vote on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which prohibits federally funded abortions. The bill, originally passed by the House in a 227-188 vote last January, blocks the use of taxpayer money for abortion services offered through private insurance plans. It passed Thursday afternoon, 242-179.
The White House warned Thursday that President Obama would likely veto the bill if it reaches his desk. “The administration strongly opposes legislation that unnecessarily restricts women’s reproductive freedoms and consumers’ private insurance options,” it said in a statement.
Monahan said Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have assured her that they will push for another vote on the 20-week ban in the coming weeks. But the bill might not look the same. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the lawmakers who Monahan says promised her that GOP lawmakers wouldn’t back down, says that the bill will have to be changed, Bloomberg reports.
“We need to find a consensus position on the rape exception,” Graham said during a Family Research Council event Wednesday night, after the bill was dropped. “The rape exception will be part of the bill. We just need to find a way definitionally to not get us into a spot where we’re debating what legitimate is. That’s not the cause. We’re not here debating legitimate rape. We’re talking about saving babies at 20 weeks.”
Monahan said she trusts Republicans to get antiabortion legislation back on the floor. “Let’s be honest—this is the most pro-life Congress we’ve had in history,” she said.
As for the Republicans who opposed the bill over fears about turning off key voters, “I would invite them to come to the March for Life,” she says. “You will see the hundreds of thousands of millennials and young women who are ardently fighting for the rights of the unborn.”
The March for Life has been held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade every year since 1974. Originally, about 30 people participated in the demonstration. Today, it’s the world’s largest antiabortion event. Check back here for updates from the march this afternoon.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the vote count of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act’s passage last year. It was 227-188.