WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to impose tighter restrictions on federal payments for abortions, thrusting the issue of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy into the polarizing politics of an election year.
The bill stands no chance of being passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. But that mattered little to members of both parties, who seemed to relish the chance to accuse their opponents of blatantly twisting the issue to their political advantage.
The House vote was 227-188, mainly along party lines. Six Democrats voted yes, one Republican voted no and another voted present.
“Here we go again,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “It’s another battle in the war on women.”
Republicans, bristling at accusations that they are hostile to women’s rights, said Democrats were unfairly characterizing their motives. “I will say it again,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., irritation apparent in her voice, “we are not attacking women’s health care.”
Existing law like the Hyde Amendment, first enacted in 1977, already restricts federal financing for abortion services. But because the Hyde Amendment must be renewed every year, Republicans said their proposal would only codify what has been the law of the land.
Though the bill had solid support from the House Republican leaders, their unanimity during the vote Tuesday obscured tensions within the party.
Republicans have long sought to restrict abortion rights as a move to satisfy their social conservative base, particularly during election years. Just last week, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, spoke at the March for Life, an annual Washington protest by opponents of legalized abortion.
But the issue has become considerably more challenging for Republicans, both because of insensitive comments from Republican men, on and off the campaign trail, and an aggressive effort by Democrats to portray the party as anti-women.
The timing of the vote was telling. Notably, the House leadership chose to bring the measure up on a day when all of Washington, and much of the news, was consumed with President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Republican leaders also decided to make the bill one of their first orders of business this year, disposing of it nearly 10 months before Election Day. A senior aide to Republican leadership said it would probably be the only time an abortion-related bill would come up this year.