GOP Push for Nationwide Abortion Ban

Republican members of the House of Representatives expressed support for federal legislation on Thursday that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

That comes three weeks after many Republicans said abortion was now an issue for the states and the people to decide following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark 1973 abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade on June 24.

The Heartbeat Protection Act was originally introduced by Representative Mike Kelly in February, 2021.

Justice Samuel Alito, in his majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, wrote that the Court's decision would allow "each State to regulate abortion as its citizens wish."

The argument was also made by several Republicans in the wake of the June 24 decision, but reports quickly emerged that members of the House GOP were mulling federal action if they can retake control of the chamber in the November midterm elections.

Federal legislation would supersede state laws but there is little realistic prospect that President Joe Biden would sign a national abortion ban. The president on July 8 signed an executive order that the White House said is aimed at protecting access to reproductive health care services.

On Thursday, Representative Kelly spoke from the House floor in favor of his heartbeat bill and was joined by several of his Republican colleagues.

The legislation, if passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president, would "prohibit abortions when an unborn child's heartbeat is detected" except where necessary to save the life of pregnant woman.

Protesters Denounce the Supreme Court's Abortion Ruling
Protesters march on Hollywood Boulevard to denounce the U.S. Supreme Court on July 9, 2022 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Some House Republicans have expressed support for a national abortion ban. David McNew/Getty Images

The proposed legislation would also require doctors to check for a heartbeat before performing the procedure and would impose "criminal penalties" on doctors who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected.

Republican Representative Doug LaMalfa was one of those speaking in favor of the bill and said that "as early as five weeks in the womb, babies have a heartbeat."

Federal legislation that effectively banned most abortions after five weeks would prevent individual states from protecting abortion rights and would be a stricter law than many states already impose.

On Wednesday, Republican Representative Fred Keller said at the House Oversight Committee that Dobbs "simply took abortion and said the states will determine the laws that will cover that within those state borders."

Erin Hawley, senior counsel of conservative Christian legal group Alliance for Defending Freedom, who is married to Republican Senator Josh Hawley, told Keller that Dobbs had "corrected a 50-year error and returned it to the people and the people's elected representatives."

However, at that same session of the committee, Republican Representative Jody Hice suggested that abortion was "a question of personhood."

"And there is not an instance that I'm aware of of anyone giving birth to something other than a person. So if it is a person after birth, it by extension is that person before birth," Hice went on.

When the Dobbs ruling was issued on June 24, the House Republican leadership issued a statement welcoming the decision.

"The Supreme Court is right to return the power to protect the unborn to the people's elected representatives in Congress and the states," the statement said.

"In the days and weeks following this decision, we must work to continue to reject extreme policies that seek to allow late-term abortions and taxpayer dollars to fund these elective procedures," the GOP leadership said.

The statement went on: "The people's representatives must defend the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every American – born and unborn. As we celebrate today's decision, we recognize the decades of advocacy from the pro-life movement and we acknowledge much work remains to protect the most vulnerable among us."

On the same day, Axios reported that House Republicans were already considering a national ban.

"When we get the majority back after the midterms, I expect there to be a larger discussion about where Republicans are unified, and those conversations are still ongoing," said Representative Jim Banks, chair of the Republican Study Committee.

Former Vice President Mike Pence also said the Court had returned "the question of abortion to the states and the people" but went on to say people "must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land."