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For new GOP House majority, a focus on abortion messaging

The agenda stands in contrast to the flurry of abortion access bills Democrats introduced last year

Demonstrators walk during the annual 49th March for Life anti-abortion demonstration on Capitol Hill on Jan. 21, 2022. This year's March for Life will occur during a week when Congress is out of session.
Demonstrators walk during the annual 49th March for Life anti-abortion demonstration on Capitol Hill on Jan. 21, 2022. This year's March for Life will occur during a week when Congress is out of session. (Tom Williams/ CQ Roll Call)

The House GOP majority plans to vote this week on three measures aimed at emphasizing its opposition to abortion, including a rules package that will fast-track consideration of legislation permanently banning federal funding of abortion.

It’s also scheduled to vote later this week on a bill addressing GOP concerns about infants who survive an attempted abortion and a measure condemning attacks on anti-abortion groups and facilities.

The trio of measures come after House Democrats last year voted on a frenzy of abortion rights bills in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned the federal right to an abortion.

Taken together, the GOP measures will likely further cement that abortion policy changes for either side will have to come from the state level or the Biden administration.

The House votes come as state legislatures also begin returning this month. Last week, the Illinois General Assembly fast-tracked passage of a bill to expand access to abortion and contraception, while Minnesota lawmakers advanced legislation codifying reproductive rights.

The shift in the House majority will give House Republicans their first opportunity to drive the agenda on abortion policy since the June 24 Supreme Court decision and to distance themselves from actions taken in the aftermath by the Biden administration.

President Joe Biden had called codifying abortion rights his top priority if Democrats maintained control of both chambers this year.

In January 2019, the House Pro-Choice Caucus celebrated their majority as an avenue to counteract the Trump administration’s policies related to abortion — though most of these goals were unable to come to fruition.

House Republicans are now in a similar position, with the ability to message on abortion-related priorities with their new narrow majority.

But GOP messaging will be limited to the House — Democrats retained control of the Senate and are unlikely to take up Republican abortion measures. Senate Democrats inclined to legislate on abortion rights would also likely fall short during procedural votes because of the 60-vote filibuster.

Key messaging

Neither chamber will be in session in the week leading up to a traditional milestone for lawmakers. Jan. 22 would have marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision — a benchmark both chambers have capitalized on for messaging in the past.

The annual March for Life, scheduled for Friday, Jan. 20, is set during a weeklong Martin Luther King Day recess — pushing any possible further House vote on abortion restrictions until the 24th. Federal lawmakers are still expected to speak at the annual rally.

The move is a setback for anti-abortion advocates who have traditionally benefited from increased attention from Congress during the march.

In January 2018, the House passed “born-alive” legislation while the Senate fell short on a procedural vote to ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation.

In 2019, the Senate similarly fell short on a bill to permanently ban taxpayer-funded abortion and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced the formation of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus at the rally.

With Democrats in control of both chambers in 2021 and 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave floor speeches in support of the anti-abortion rally while lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., introduced bills that were not taken up by their chamber.

House shift

The House rules package highlights three major priorities for Republicans in the wake of the Dobbs decision.

The package includes text that would fast-track consideration of a bill that would permanently block using federal funding for abortions. The annual policy known as the Hyde amendment has implemented this restriction in various forms since 1976 — though Democrats have increased pushes in recent years to scrap the rider from annual spending bills.

It would also reignite a key Republican priority from 2019 that would build on a bipartisan 2002 federal law that protects an infant born during a failed abortion, and requires that the infant receive medically appropriate care.

Since 2002, some Republicans have called for additional state and federal legislation, despite opposition from major medical organizations arguing that proposed changes are misleading and unnecessary.

In 2019, House Republicans submitted more than 80 requests for unanimous consent to consider a bill they say would expand protections for these infants and pursued a procedural strategy known as a discharge petition hoping to expedite consideration of the bill.

Efforts to enact federal legislation continued, and so-called “born-alive” protections have been implemented in multiple states. Most recently, Montana voters rejected a 2022 ballot measure asking voters if the state should require medical care for infants born alive after induced labor, a cesarean section or attempted abortion.

The package also includes a resolution condemning recent attacks on anti-abortion groups and centers and churches.

Since the June decision, conservative groups like CatholicVote have amped up calls for the Justice Department to protect against and investigate attacks against organizations that oppose abortion. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and DOJ more broadly are investigating attacks on these clinics as well as on abortion facilities in states where it remains legal.

House Appropriations shared a rare point of agreement during a contentious June 2022 Labor-HHS-Education markup held days after the Dobbs decision.

At the time lawmakers had adopted amendments that would provide grants for health providers to increase physical security and cybersecurity of patients, workers and medical facilities as well as pregnancy help centers, which abortion opponents have pushed as alternatives to abortion clinics.

March for Life President Jeanne Mancini pressed House Republicans for including the priorities in the rules package, calling them “commonsense and compassionate.”

“Each of these measures align with the values of the vast majority of Americans and we look forward to seeing a vote on them soon,” she said in a statement to CQ Roll Call prior to the vote.

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