House GOP leaders strike controversial abortion pill ‘rider’ in new funding bill

House GOP leaders are not pursuing restrictions on abortion pills in their latest funding measure, a substantial concession to swing-district Republicans ahead of Election Day.

Republicans in the chamber unveiled their spending bill Monday evening that covers federal agriculture programs and the Food and Drug Administration, as they work to pass a dozen partisan funding measures before August recess. Unlike last year, the legislation would not overturn the FDA’s decision in early 2023 that allows mifepristone abortion pills to be sold at retail pharmacies and delivered by mail.

Forgoing the mifepristone restrictions is an early sign GOP leaders are toning down their most divisive funding proposals amid pushback from centrist Republicans. That may not be uniform, however, as Speaker Mike Johnson has alsocommitted to using the spending bills to go after the Justice Department and state-level prosecutors following former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction.

Politically vulnerable GOP incumbents have been pressing their leaders to leave out the abortion pill language and other controversial social policies, which prevented House leaders from passing five of the 12 funding bills last year. And House Appropriations Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he had “a frank discussion among the Cardinals” who chair the 12 funding subpanels about reconsidering the policy restrictions that derailed last year’s attempts.

“Let the chips fall where they may. But I’m hopeful that we’ll realize that some of the things that didn’t work last time probably won’t work this time,” Cole said.

It’s not totally over for conservatives who have pushed for the rider, though. The Oklahoma Republican noted that amendments offered during committee markups could add controversial policies, even if they’re not included in initial bill text.

The restrictions on abortion pills, along with steep funding cuts to agriculture programs, foiled repeated passage attempts by both then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Johnson.

Now, as they reattempt that mission ahead of the Sept. 30 shutdown deadline, House Republican leaders are hoping passage of all 12 funding bills would strengthen their negotiating stance with the Senate and the White House. Bipartisan deal-making talks will likely begin in earnest after Election Day, with both chambers expected to punt on funding that expires Sept. 30.