You'd think preventing child marriage would be an issue both parties in Congress could agree on.
You'd be wrong.
This week, House Republicans blocked passage of a bipartisan bill to protect women and girls in developing countries from child marriages. The bill needed a two-thirds majority of the House to pass, but fell short by the count of 241-166.
The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, a bill championed in the Senate by the chamber's No. 2 Democrat Dick Durbin and moderate Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, would require the federal government to develop a plan to combat child marriage with the goal of eliminating the practice worldwide.
The bill’s defeat in the House Thursday left Durbin fuming.
"The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world," Durbin said in a statement after Thursday’s House vote. “These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill.”
The measure had already passed the Senate – unanimously. So how did a bipartisan bill with 112 co-sponsors fail to pass the House?
Just before the vote, Republicans distributed a memo to pro-life House members arguing that the bill could ultimately end up funding abortions.
“The bill provides little structure or oversight on how the money may be spent,” the memo read. “The President is authorized under this bill to provide assistance through nongovernmental organizations that are charged with the promotion of ‘health’ of girls and women. It is possible that some of these NGOs may view abortion as health care and promote abortion services as a part of that health care.”
In the memo, Republicans denounced the bill as “costly and duplicative.”
“Some conservatives have expressed the following concerns,” they said. “The bill authorizes $108 million over five years – before ascertaining how much is already being spent on similar programs that aim to prevent child marriage – and without finding any offsets.”
“The process has been closed. There have been no hearings held in the House and there is no opportunity to amend the bill.”