House Republican leaders are keeping their distance from any kind of national abortion ban, reverting from historical pushes and instead throwing the issue down to House committees and the states.
“It works through committee. The Supreme Court has made that decision. It goes to the states, the states will take up that issue,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a press conference on Thursday when asked if Republicans will put forward a national ban on abortion in any form.
Republicans passed a 20-week abortion ban when they controlled the House in 2013, 2015 and 2017. But after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, sparking electoral challenges for Republicans in the midterms, they said that any decision on a national ban would depend on what the House majority looks like.
With a slim four-seat majority and many members in swing districts where the abortion issue has proven to be politically tricky, leaders for now appear content to leave the decision to the states.
“This is a federal system. We live in a Constitutional republic. Under that system, the states are supposed to know best,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) told The Hill in an interview when asked about federal action on abortion and the politics of the issue.
“I’ll trust the states and their leadership to make those decisions,” Emmer said.
That stance is in line with former President Trump, whose campaign recently told The Washington Post that the former president “believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level.”
Trump supported the 20-week abortion ban that the House passed in 2017.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who is anti-abortion but has been vocally critical of the strict state-level abortion bans being signed into law that lack exceptions, said voters in her swing district went from being “mildly pro-choice” before Roe v. Wade was overturned to “absolutely pro-choice.”
“Even some of the pro-lifers don’t want the heavy hand of government intervening on the issue,” Mace said.
Mace dug into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for signing a six-week abortion ban into law “in the dead of night,” calling the bill “extreme” due to its requirements that rape victims show proof to get an abortion exception.
But despite her recent vocal critiques, Mace said that a less severe ban could be more politically acceptable for Republicans.
“A 15- to 20-week ban would be, I think, supported nationally. I don’t think that there’s anything controversial about that. Roe allowed you to have an abortion up until birth,” Mace said. “I mean, socialist Europe is 12 to 15 weeks, if you’re even allowed to have one. So, that is definitely compromise.”
Emmer and House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) did cosponsor a 15-week abortion ban measure introduced in the House in the last Congress. That bill has not yet been re-introduced in this Congress.
Conservative and anti-abortion advocacy groups are pushing for Congress to take action on federal abortion restrictions.
And Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America has said that any candidate who does not support national abortion restrictions should be “disqualified” from winning the presidential nomination. The group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said that the Trump campaign’s position that the issue should be decided on the state level is a “morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.”
The 20-week ban bills that the House passed in 2015 and 2017 came straight to the House floor with the support of leadership. McCarthy has pledged in the current Congress, though, to have more legislation move through regular order rather than bringing it straight to the floor.