Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Johnson's first antiabortion messaging bills

Jan 18, 2024
Illustration of a red caduceus crossed with a blue caduceus.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Roe v. Wade is gone, but Monday's anniversary of the 1973 decision still is providing a potent rallying point for lawmakers in Congress.

Driving the news: House GOP leaders have teed up a pair of bills they say aim to protect pregnant women's rights but that Democrats contend would further erode access to abortions.

Why it matters: They're the first such messaging bills under Speaker Mike Johnson and stand no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And it will elevate an issue that's been toxic for the GOP in post-Roe elections.

  • But their prominence amid a showdown over keeping the government funded signifies that the GOP majority isn't finished, and perhaps telegraphs a new legislative twist.
  • "We are working on the next chapter of our pro-life movement," said Rep. Ashley Hinson, a sponsor of one of the bills going to the floor Thursday.
  • "We believe that it's important to stand by families during unplanned pregnancies.… That's why House Republicans are voting on two pieces of legislation this week," Johnson said during this week's House Republican leadership press conference. "We'll take this week as we do each year, to remember the value of every single human life."
  • Johnson is scheduled to speak at the March for Life rally Friday.

Zoom in: Both bills focus on resources for pregnant people and were slated for floor votes Thursday afternoon.

  • The Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Women and Families Act, which was approved out of the House Ways and Means Committee last week along party lines, would allow states to allocate Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to "crisis pregnancy centers" — nonprofit organizations sometimes affiliated with religious groups that aim to dissuade pregnant people from having an abortion.
  • TANF funds are used to help low-income families and children, but states have discretion on how they're used.
  • The Biden administration last year issued a proposed rule that could block the centers from receiving federal funds for preventing or reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies — one of TANF's goals.

The other bill, the Pregnant Students' Rights Act, advanced out of the House Education and Workforce Committee last week along party lines.

  • It would amend the Higher Education Act to require universities to provide pregnant students with information on their rights and resources so they can carry a pregnancy to term, if they wish.
  • The bill notes that students may "face pressure that their only option is to receive an abortion or risk academic failure," so colleges should be mandated to detail resources and accommodations, as well as how to file a complaint if there's a violation of rights.
  • "We should all agree that pregnant students deserve better connections to resources available. And we should be a country that empowers mothers on campus and supports them with resources and information," said E.V. Osment, vice president of communications for SBA Pro-Life America in a statement on the legislation.

The other side: Democrats say the bills will further limit access to abortions.

  • "Speaker Johnson and anti-choice extremists are pushing two more anti-abortion measures onto the House floor, continuing their march towards a total, national abortion ban," the DCCC wrote.
  • The Biden administration opposes both bills.
  • Democratic senators held a briefing Wednesday during which they highlighted how abortion bans have adversely affected women's health in the states where they've been enacted.

The annual Women's March is this weekend in Phoenix, in a state anticipated to be one of the next battleground states for abortion rights that could have an abortion-related measure on the ballot in November.

Flashback: Johnson's involvement in antiabortion legislation dates to his time in the Louisiana legislature, where he helped craft bills regulating abortion providers.

Go deeper