Today, the March for Life will take place in our nation’s capital, drawing attention to more than 50 million babies aborted since the Roe v Wade decision 42 years ago. If that seems like an odd time for the new Republican-majority Congress to disappoint and anger the pro-life activists who will almost literally be marching on their doorstep, well, you’re hardly alone. Conservatives erupted in outrage yesterday as the House GOP backed away from a vote on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks except in cases of rape and incest:

House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation’s restrictive language would once again spoil the party’s chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.

In recent days, as many as two dozen Republicans had raised concerns with the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” that would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Sponsors said that exceptions would be allowed for a woman who is raped, but she could only get the abortion after reporting the rape to law enforcement.

A vote had been scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the annual March for Life, a gathering that brings hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion activists to Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

But Republican leaders dropped those plans after failing to win over a bloc of lawmakers, led by Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who had raised concerns.

The House will vote instead Thursday on a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions — a more innocuous anti-abortion measure that the Republican-controlled chamber has passed before.

The concerns in this case came through the inclusion of an exceptions for reported rape [see update]. Recall that three years ago, Republicans got pilloried when Todd Akin opposed that exception (in an exceptionally clumsy manner) because it was supposedly so easy to claim as a predicate. This time, Ellmers and Walorski opposed the bill because the exception is too burdensome — despite running in both cases as pro-life legislators who pledged to act on those principles. This despite the fact that this exception is demanded by abortion advocates in any kind of limiting legislation as a baseline expectation to deal with the <1.5% of abortions to which those exceptions apply. That data, by the way, comes from surveys done by the abortion-supporting Guttmacher Institute, and not law enforcement data on reported incidents of rape.

Ellmers and others appear to be worried about the message that this bill sends as one of the first actions from a new Republican Congress. The argument is that it will give Democrats a powerful message in next year’s elections by painting new members from more moderate districts won in this election as extreme. David Harsanyi dispenses with that notion rather powerfully:

A new Marist poll finds 84 percent of Americans favor some level of further restrictions on abortion. And regardless of their feelings about the legality of the procedure, 60 percent believe it to be “morally wrong.” If you aren’t keen on that poll—it was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, after all—you can take your pick of others.

A Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of women support limiting abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. A CBS News poll found that 60 percent of Americans thought abortion “should not be permitted” or available only under “stricter limits.” A CNN Poll found that 58 percent of Americans believe abortion should legal only in a “few circumstances” or “always illegal.”

Yet the GOP caves on a bill that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks and promises instead to pass another worthless ban on taxpayer funded abortions—which we all know can be ignored by hiring an accountant.

Today is the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And while the media continues to treat every Obama non-starter and crowd-pleaser as genuine policy idea, the 20-week abortion ban was predictably framed as another divisive play by zealous conservatives.Controversial. Republican leadership helpfully confirmed this perception by abandoning the only bill their party has come up with in years that widely supported.

There is nothing extreme about limiting abortions after 20 weeks to cases of rape and incest. A baby at 20 weeks has been human life for all of its 20 weeks, but especially at this stage is fully formed and nearly viable on his or her own. There are almost no medical reasons to terminate a pregnancy at this stage, which we have known for two decades after Bill Clinton and his allies attempted to argue the opposite when this issue first came before Congress. It’s an issue of disposability and utility, and we are allowing the butchery of human life for those “virtues” for far too long as it is.

Even if Democrats planned to use this as a way to paint Republicans as “extreme,” so what? They will do that with every vote against their agenda anyway. Voters sent Republicans in Congress as a rejection of the Democratic agenda and a mandate to pursue the GOP’s. Besides, the next election is more than 20 months away. When will Ellmers, Walorski, and their colleagues feel comfortable voting in line with their proclaimed beliefs? If not now, then probably never. If they are this easily discouraged, perhaps they should seek other work.

Update: Here’s Ellmers vocally supporting the same legislation in the summer of 2013, via John McCormack:

Update: I incorrectly stated that the bill included exceptions for health emergencies and incest. Thanks to Marcus in the comment section. I’ve corrected that paragraph above; in any event, it was the reported rape exception to which Ellmers and other Republicans objected as too burdensome.