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House GOP plans pregnancy-related bills before Roe anniversary

Bills aim to support pregnant college students, bar HHS from limiting federal funds for pregnancy centers

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., arrives to speak to reporters about the spending negotiations in the Capitol last Friday. Johnson is scheduled to speak at the March for Life on Friday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., arrives to speak to reporters about the spending negotiations in the Capitol last Friday. Johnson is scheduled to speak at the March for Life on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans are teeing up two measures that signal their opposition to abortion ahead of the annual March for Life, but for the second year in a row are focusing not on abortion bans but on issues related to unwanted pregnancies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The annual anti-abortion rally that attracts thousands to Washington, D.C., is traditionally used as a time to message on anti-abortion issues. This will be the first year with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., setting the House’s agenda for the week of the march. Johnson and House Pro-Life Caucus Chairman Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., are both slated to address the event Friday.

This week’s votes follow separate markups last week on the legislation tied to resources for pregnant women.

The first measure the House will vote on seeks to increase protections and resources for college or university students who carry a pregnancy to term. It would not require information about abortion or contraception options.

The second would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from limiting federal funds for pregnancy centers ― a term for resource centers and clinics that abortion opponents have pushed as an alternative to abortion clinics. The Biden administration proposed narrowing eligibility for grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2023 in a way that would exclude such centers from receiving funding.

This year the march’s theme ― With Every Woman, For Every Child, — aims to elevate pregnancy centers and maternity homes, which house primarily homeless women during pregnancy or post-partum. Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, called pregnancy centers and maternity homes “the heart of the pro-life movement” in a statement.

The House intends to vote on the education bill Thursday, and the funding bill on Friday.

House Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., gave a nod to the march during a Tuesday hearing on the parameters for both bills, and called to “never be complacent in our moral duty to stand up for the sanctity of life.“

Last year, the chamber held its symbolic votes earlier to accommodate a congressional recess ― passing legislation that Republicans say would protect infants who survive an attempted abortion and a measure from Johnson that condemn attacks on anti-abortion centers and organizations.

But the chamber eventually punted on voting on the third bill from Smith that would permanently block federal funding for abortion, which has been approved on an annual basis since 1976. During the 2023 march, lawmakers hinted it would be up for a vote in the coming weeks.

A shift toward a vote on abortion funding is less likely in 2024, with Republicans holding a slim majority in the House and heading into the election.

Since the Dobbs decision, the results of all seven state abortion-related ballot initiatives have backed the side of abortion rights.

“If you’re losing on every issue set that the voters care about and you have no ideas on how to fix it, I would also want to change the subject to something else,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., speaking to reporters in a briefing last week. He said he is advising candidates this cycle to be clear about their position rather than avoiding it “like a hot stove.”

But Hudson also said he has not called on Johnson to not bring up bills that could be tricky votes for vulnerable Republicans.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had those conversations with them. I’ll let them stay in their lane, and I’ll stay in my lane,” he said.

House Rules ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., called this week’s vote series “part of Republicans’ ongoing push to ban abortion nationwide.”

He pointed to Hudson’s remarks and legislative action in states like Texas, Kentucky and South Carolina.

“Every single week we’re here with bills to criminalize abortion, ban abortion, punish people who get an abortion and push these extreme bills that take away women’s freedoms,” said McGovern.

Messaging on pregnancy centers allows lawmakers who oppose abortion to support these measures without facing a vote that would directly limit who can seek abortions and when.

Smith and other House Republicans plan to hold a press conference Thursday afternoon with pregnancy center representatives about the resources they provide.

The pregnancy center legislation notably does not use the word “abortion” in the bill text.

Democrats say this week’s votes are still a distraction from other issues, like the Friday spending deadline. The Senate has not announced any votes related to abortion.

The White House released two statements of administration policy Tuesday condemning both bills, which say that federal civil rights laws already bar discrimination based on pregnancy and that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families regulation would ensure funds are not misused for an unintended purpose.

“We all know the real reason we’re marking this up today in this committee. Our Republican colleagues want to showcase their anti-abortion platform before this year’s March for Life event, which is about a week away,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., during last Wednesday’s Ways and Means Committee markup.

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., echoed the sentiment.

“Republicans on this committee are once again wasting our time in a performative effort to appease the pro-life movement,” he said. “It’s not lost on us that we are having this markup today to appease next week’s March for Life rally bringing to the Capitol anti-choice advocates to advocate for a nationwide abortion ban.”

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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