This week, nearly half a million Americans gathered in Washington D.C. to demonstrate against abortion. The March for Life drew young, mostly religious people to the nation’s capital to protest the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. But the protestors – carrying signs with messages like “Defend Life” – were disheartened by what they perceived as cowardice within the House of Representatives.
The House this week pushed through legislation meant to bar federal funds from being used to pay for abortions, but it was another bill that Republicans backed away from at the last minute. That bill, intended to ban abortions after the 20-week mark, was shelved when a group of female Republicans rebelled against the party’s leadership. Drawing the most ire was Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina. Ellmers organized the rebellion, which argued that abortion restrictions were not part of a winning 2016 strategy.
According to the group, Republicans needed to abandon the hard line on social issues like gay marriage and abortion if they wanted to retain office in swing districts and set themselves up for a successful White House bid. Among the detractors was Jackie Walorski of Indiana, who said, “We have a responsibility as the elected body representing our constituents, to protect the most vulnerable among us and ensure that women facing unwanted pregnancies do not face judgment or condemnation but have positive support structures and access to health care to help them through their pregnancies.”
If the bill’s failure aroused anger from anti-abortion activists, it also exposed further divisions within the Republican Party. These divisions have come about on immigration, Obamacare, and now abortion. It seems clear that there is a fracture within the GOP’s elected representatives, and there is a wide divide between the party’s conservative base and the actions of the House.
On the other side of the aisle, even the House’s ban on federal funds seems doomed for failure. President Obama announced that he was “deeply committed to protecting this core constitutional right,” insisting that he would veto any legislation that would “intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care.”
In truth, opponents of strict legislation regarding abortion have a stronger leg to stand on than those who want to cave on amnesty. Abortion was not a major player in the issues of the 2014 election; Obama’s executive actions were front and center. The GOP leadership that seems poised to cave on amnesty must be held accountable for the lies they told conservatives in the run-up to the election. No such grand promises were made on abortion, so it’s unfair to characterize their retreat as a betrayal.
Still, this crack in the GOP is one that needs to be resolved. The race for the White House is about more than pleasing the largest swath of voters possible. It’s also about presenting a unified front. In squabbles over the direction of the party, Republicans are signaling to Americans that they are not ready to lead. If these weaknesses pave the way for a Hillary Clinton victory, Republicans will be guilty of the biggest betrayal of all.