On Thursday night, hours before passing the tax cut compromise, House Republicans thwarted a bill that aimed to protect girls around the world from being coerced into child marriage. They opposed it because, they claimed, it might fund abortions.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), was blindsided. After the Child Marriage Protection Act passed the Senate with zero objection on Dec. 1 — a rare feat these days — it didn’t seem like there was much to worry about.
But just before the vote began, Republican leadership blasted out a “whip alert” to GOP staffers with a message: Vote no. The alert claimed the bill cost too much and that a competing bill, introduced just the day before, would be better.
“There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws,” the alert read.
And so the bill, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass under the suspended rules, failed. Even some congressmen who sponsored the bill voted no.
McCollum, along with human rights organizations and the State Department, believes that child marriage is a form of child abuse that includes sexual abuse, domestic violence and slavery.
The text of the bill does not mention abortion, contraception or family planning. Instead, it directs the president to make preventing child marriage a priority, especially in countries where more than 40 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married. The ways to do that, according to the bill: support educating communities on the dangers and health effects of child marriage, keep young girls in school, support female mentoring programs and make sure girls have access to health care services.
It’s the “health care services” provision that had Republicans riled, according to a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, whose name is on the whip alert and who voted no on the bill.
“The concern was that the reference to ‘health services’ in the bill — under the current Administration — would include abortion services,” the spokesman, Michael Steel, told TPM.
Republicans also claimed that the bill would spend $108 million in taxpayer money. McCollum, however, says the bill doesn’t authorize any new funds. The Congressional Budget Office says it would cost about $67 million over five years, noting that it won’t affect direct spending and is therefore not subject to pay-go.
[H/T Washington Post]