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House GOP leaders face pushback from female members on abortion bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Republican leaders are facing a rebellion from a small, but critically important part of their caucus: GOP women.

A group of female House Republicans is criticizing abortion legislation that is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, arguing provisions dealing with rape are too harsh, and could threaten the party's efforts to reach out to women and young people. The dust up could force leaders to make changes to the bill to make sure it passes.

Discussion about the issue at a closed door meeting on Wednesday morning got so tense that congressional aides were kicked out of the meeting when the debate turned emotional, according to several GOP sources.

The internal feud is putting leaders is an awkward spot, because they targeted the vote for Thursday, the same day as the March for Life in Washington, an annual gathering of anti-abortion activists. That event takes place on the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which negated state laws that prevented a woman from having an abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy.

The \"Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,\" is a bill banning so called \"late-term abortions\" -- those involving procedures for women who are beyond 20 weeks into their pregnancy. Several House GOP women are protesting language in the bill that requires those women who seek an exception to the ban because they were raped have to back up their claim with a police report. A similar measure has passed the House in 2013, but this time some female members -- including some who voted for it last time -- are pushing for that requirement to be stripped out.

On Tuesday, two female Republicans -- Rep. Rene Ellmers of North Carolina and Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana -- removed themselves as cosponsors of the legislation. Walorski later posted on her Facebook page that she would vote for the bill, but she declined to comment on the issue further.

The push back on this bill is being led by some female members, but other moderate GOP members are backing their efforts. Out of the 246 Republicans in the House, 22 are women.

CNN reached out to several female House GOP members, who were seen huddling on the House floor during votes on Wednesday, but most declined to talk about their talks with leaders.

Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler supports the bill. When asked about the discussions about the rape provisions she told CNN, \"We're just figuring out the best way to get it passed in the long run. We will figure that out.\"

Arizona GOP Rep. Trent Franks, the primary author of the bill, predicted the bill could pass if the language regarding rape stays in the bill. He maintained that public opinion polls demonstrate Americans off all ages back his legislation.

\"Everything that I know about millennial voters, the younger voters, is that they are more pro-life than us old guys,\" Franks said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday afternoon, \"We're continuing to listen\" to members but said they were still planning to move forward with the vote on Thursday.

Republican aides stressed that leaders were not officially \"whipping\" the bill -- urging members to vote one way or another on what they said is a vote of conscience. But the series of last minute meetings show they are trying to avoid an embarrassing situation of putting a bill on the floor without knowing they had sufficient support to pass it.

CNN's Dana Bash and Athena Jones contributed to this report.

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