By Alex Rogers
January 22, 2015

The House Republican leadership reversed course on plans to vote on an anti-abortion bill deemed too restrictive by many female lawmakers in its conference, exposing internal party divisions as activists mark the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade with the March for Life.

The bill—the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Even though a similar bill was passed two years ago, Republican lawmakers raised concerns that this bill included a controversial clause requiring that a woman had to report the rape to police before she could get an abortion. The House will now hold another symbolic vote on a different, old bill that bans taxpayer funding of abortions.

“The reporting requirements I think were problematic,” said Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who met with House GOP Whip Steve Scalise to air out her concerns this week. “Statistics show that a lot of women who are raped do not report it.”

Hartzler said she hoped that the bill would come back up with altered language that could garner more support. It’s unclear whether or not the current bill could have passed.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has opposed similar legislative proposals based on fetal pain as “not based on sound science.” The bill would be aimed at a minority of abortions, since 92 percent are performed within the first 13 weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conservatives supported the bill in its entirety and expect the leadership to bring it back in some form. Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee officials said they were “disappointed” that there wouldn’t be a vote and would work with the House GOP leadership “to ensure the maximum number of votes” in the future. Conservative RedState activist Erick Erickson called Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, a key figure in opposing the bill’s rape reporting language, the “GOP’s Abortion Barbie.”

“There was a lot of discussion in our retreat [last week] about this and some of the new people did not want to make this the first bill they voted on because the millennials have a little bit of a different take on it,” said Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida. “But you will see it come back because the American people agree with it two to one. It’s a hideous practice. It needs to stop.”

The conservatives’ confidence that the bill will be resurrected would disappoint Democrats like Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who said that now there is “some grain of hope that the Republican leadership is no longer going to be totally constrained by the wishes of their right-wing friends.”

Other Democrats said the abortion issue plays directly into their “war on women” narrative.

“It’s almost as though they’re creating the strategy for us, bringing up these bills,” New York Rep. Joseph Crowley, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus told the Hill.

“In contrast to talking about job creation and bigger paychecks, they’re putting a bill on the floor that undermines the health of of America’s women,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a press conference Thursday. “The bill is worse than the bill they pulled from the floor yesterday. That affected thousands of women, maybe, this affects millions of women. It not only affects their health, it affects the personal decisions of how they spend their own money on health insurance.”

Moderate Republicans such as Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent agreed with Pelosi that the GOP should be talking about pocketbook issues instead.

“I would prefer that our party spend less time focusing on these very contentious social issues because that distracts us from broader economic messages where I think we have a much greater appeal to the larger public,” he said.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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