HERSHEY, Pa.—Republican lawmakers are raising concerns that the party will alienate young voters and women by voting for an antiabortion bill coming to the House floor next week, on the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
In a closed-door open-mic session of House Republicans, Rep. Renee Ellmers spoke out against bringing up the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, telling the conference that she believes the bill will cost the party support among millennials, according to several sources in the room.
"I have urged leadership to reconsider bringing it up next week."¦ We got into trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again; we need to be smart about how we're moving forward," Ellmers said in an interview. "The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn't be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren't as important [to them]."
The frustration comes as the GOP retreat on Thursday night hosted demographer Neil Howe, the man credited with coining the term "millennial," and as the party has been discussing how to appeal to young voters.
Other members voiced concerns in the meeting that the bill, which passed the House last year, distracts from the GOP's stated message of creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
It also puts blue-state Republicans in a tough position of having to vote on abortion, an issue that can attract electoral reprisals from both the left and the right, depending on how a member votes. Another concern is that Republicans could get attacked from the left because the bill is sponsored by a man.
But the bill is supported by the vast majority of Republicans -- all but six GOP members voted for it in 2013. And Rep. Trent Franks, the bill's sponsor, said in an interview it is particularly important to vote on the bill on because of the anniversary of the Supreme Court case that disallowed many federal and state restrictions on abortion. Franks said there is a lot of tension among antiabortion advocates at this time of year.
Franks also said that he thinks young people, by and large, oppose abortion, and that he hopes people recognize this bill as a sincere effort to protect mothers and babies.
"Republicans in general understand that if we should step away from protecting the innocent now, that ultimately nothing will stop our party from sliding into moral and political oblivion," Franks said. "No matter what bait-and-switch tactics or change-the-subject tactics or distortions are used, if sincere people will simply read this bill, they will see for themselves that it represents a genuine and sincere effort to protect babies and their mothers beginning at the sixth month of gestation from one of the most tragic realities in our country.
It is unclear if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring the bill up in the Senate.
Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.