WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Republican who helped lead a rebellion against an abortion-ban proposal says the party must stop making itself vulnerable to claims it’s waging a war on women.

Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina became the face of the House Republican women and moderates who pushed their leaders to drop a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Instead, the House voted 242-179 Thursday to pass a bill making permanent a ban on federal funding of abortions.

“I believe our heart is in the right place. And we’re standing up for what is right,” Ellmers said in an interview, referring to fellow House Republicans, women and men.

Ellmers, 50, first elected to Congress in 2010 with tea party support, said she supports a ban on abortions starting at the 20-week mark. The language of the bill simply went too far, she said — allowing an exception for rape victims only if they reported the assault to police. An exception for cases of incest would apply only to minors.

“The thing is — I am pro-life. I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe that life begins at the point of conception,” said Ellmers, a former nurse.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders have been unable to unify a party that now has control of both the House and Senate. Republicans are split among those who want to take a hard line on social issues and those who want to appeal to centrist voters and women.

The substitute measure passed Thursday, H.R. 7, would make permanent a prohibition on federal funding for abortion services first passed in 1976. The provision is not codified and is passed each year as part of appropriations legislation.