WASHINGTON — With tens of thousands participating in the annual March for Life on Thursday, House Republican leaders had hoped to send a strong signal of pro-life support by adopting a 20-week abortion ban similar to one already on the books in Arkansas. That didn’t happen.

WASHINGTON — With tens of thousands participating in the annual March for Life on Thursday, House Republican leaders had hoped to send a strong signal of pro-life support by adopting a 20-week abortion ban similar to one already on the books in Arkansas. That didn’t happen.


The bill was shelved — because of concerns raised within the GOP caucus — and instead the House took up a bill to permanently bar federal funds for any abortion coverage. The bill, which would also block tax credits for many buying abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act, was approved, 242-179.


The Arkansas delegation voted for the bill and was supportive of the 20-week abortion ban.


Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who spoke at the March for Life rally, said he was disappointed that GOP leaders had pulled the bill and hopes it will return soon for a vote. The rally marked the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.


"I was disappointed with the fact that they pulled it down after saying yesterday that we were going to vote on it today," he said. "I know there were some who wanted to change it. I’m okay with it however we do it as long as we are moving the ball in the right direction for life."


Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said he expects the bill would come back for a vote and suggested that the dispute within the GOP over the bill was not significant.


"It’s important for members on both sides of the aisle and within the conference to have legislation structured in the best way possible. I think members are still working on it," Hill said. "I think that bill will come back. They are still in discussion on how it will be changed or if it will be changed at all. I expect to learn more about it next week."


Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said the shuffling of the pro-life bills was a sign that Republican governance is still "a work in progress" in Washington where the GOP just took control of both House and Senate.


Womack said a robust discussion over the 20-week abortion ban bill took place when House Republicans met privately earlier this week. Womack was not at the meeting but was filled in by colleagues on what transpired.


Of concern was a provision in the bill that would limit an exemption to the 20-week ban for woman who became pregnant through incest or rape. Under the bill, the exemption would only be allowed for women who had filed a police report. Opponents pointed to a 2013 Justice Department report that found only 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police.


"The requirement for reporting that generated quite a robust discussion demonstrated that even on some of our more passionate issues there seems to be a limit as to how far some of those issues can go with our conference," Womack said.


Concerns were also raised that Democrats would use the issue as a partisan bludgeon by accusing Republicans of waging war on women once more.


In the end, Womack said he thinks leadership decided to turn to a back up plan by voting instead on the bill to permanently ban federal funding of abortions.


The vote approving the bill split along party lines. Democrats voiced concern that it would further restrict a woman’s constitutional right to choose an abortion.


"This bill drastically undermines a woman’s constitutional right to choose and effectively eliminates access to reproductive care for low-income women across the country," said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.


Westerman said the bill was needed to insure that federal dollars are not spent on abortions, particularly through the Affordable Care Act.


"Although Americans were repeatedly told by the president that Obamacare would not include funding for abortion coverage, it has become evident that hardworking taxpayers are subsidizing abortion under the president’s health care program," he said.


The Government Accountability Office issued a report in September that found over 1,000 insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act contained coverage for elective abortion services, he noted.