US & Canada

House passes abortion bill during anti-abortion march

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Media captionAnti-abortion activists flocked to Washington

The US House has passed a bill to tighten restrictions on abortion, just as anti-abortion activists were marching through Washington, DC.

The measure would permanently ban funding for abortion costs, including tax credits offered under Barack Obama's healthcare law.

But an earlier bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks was scrapped after a rebellion led by female Republicans.

The legislation's passage is unclear in the Senate.

And the White House has said it will veto the legislation - saying it "unnecessarily restricts women's reproductive freedom and consumers' private insurance options".

The US is sharply divided on the issue of abortion, with polls suggesting Americans are about evenly split four decades after the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalised abortion in the US.

Most policy has been focused on the state level with new laws that have forced many clinics offering abortion to close. The measures have been the subject of protracted legal battles.

On Thursday, anti-abortion protesters marched in Washington on the anniversary of Roe v Wade.

"It's important to me personally because I have six children and the greatest gift I've given them is life," one woman told the BBC.

"And I'm here to speak for the unborn who don't have someone to fight for them."

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Image caption Abortion rights activists block the road near the US Supreme Court

The first version of the House bill banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape. But women would have to report a rape to law enforcement.

Ten US state currently ban abortions after the same time period.

A collection of female Republican legislators, led by Representative Renee Ellmers, pushed back against that provision.

The new bill makes permanent a previous measure that blocks federal funding for abortion. The House approved the measure 242-179.

It also would bar individuals and many employers from collecting tax credits for insurance plans covering abortion that they pay for privately and purchase through exchanges established under the new healthcare law.

Ahead of its passage House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy urged his colleagues "to stand with the hundreds of thousands of people out on the Mall right now by voting for this bill".

Democrats accused the Republicans of yet another assault on women's rights and suggested Republicans were trying to placate the visiting protesters.

"Women's rights should not be theatre, should not be drama," Representative Steve Cohen said.

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