News Abortion

D.C. Rep.: Abortion Rider “Tramples Democracy”

Robin Marty

One Congresswoman fights back on the omnibus spending bill with a rider that continues the D.C. ban on abortion funding.

The omnibus spending bill needed to keep the government functioning past Friday night has been agreed upon by both parties in the House and the Senate.  But Washington D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton isn’t happy with one of the sweeteners added into the budget to get Republican votes — a continuation of the recent policy stating D.C. cannot use its own Medicaid funds to help low income women pay to terminate a pregnancy.

According to Norton, the policy does nothing more than “trample on democracy.”

Via MSNBC.com:

D.C.’s nonvoting Congressional delegate released a statement attacking a rider attached to the bill that forbids the District from using its own money to fund abortion services for low-income women.

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“We will never be satisfied as long as there is a single prohibition on D.C.’s use of its local funds,” Norton’s statement said in part. “It is especially ironic that the final sticking point in the negotiations on the conference report was how to promote democracy in Cuba while the bill tramples on democracy in the ‘capital of the free world’ with a rider keeping its residents from spending their own local funds on abortion services for low-income women.”

The omnibus spending bill passed both the House and Senate this weekend, with the understanding that a bill to extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits would pass next.  The House Republicans have since stated they will no longer pass the Senate’s bill.

News Abortion

Exclusive: House GOP Budgets $1.2 Million for Anti-Choice ‘Witch Hunt’

Christine Grimaldi

The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress videos.

Congressional Republicans investigating widely discredited claims about fetal tissue trafficking and abortion expect to spend $1.2 million on the anti-choice crusade by the end of the year.

The figure represents the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives’ total estimated budget for calendar year 2016, a high-ranking GOP aide in the U.S. House of Representatives told Rewire. The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos, dubbed by Democratic legislators as a “witch hunt.”

Contrary to the anti-choice front group’s allegations, three prior congressional inquiries and 13 states to date have found no evidence that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.

Even as the aide revealed the scope of Republicans’ spending, more questions emerged about when and how they are getting taxpayer money.

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The Committee on House Administration has tapped nearly 80 percent of the chamber’s funding reserves, approving $790,000 for the investigation, split two-thirds and one-third between Republicans and Democrats. The committee initially transferred $300,000 to the panel in 2015, which was only for that year.

Excluding the 2015 transfer, the 2016 budget shortfall totals about $710,000. Including the transfer, about $410,000.

Republicans, however, anticipate a roughly $450,000 shortfall, according to the aide, who acknowledged that they have yet to figure out how they would make up the shortfall. Details about potential funding sources could not be immediately ascertained, though the aide said Republicans would have to produce the funding no later than December 1.

Several options exist for GOP lawmakers. Republicans could earmark the money in an increasingly likely continuing resolution, which would fund the overall U.S. government in the absence of viable appropriations bills. However, that would require U.S. Senate passage—hardly a guarantee with such a controversial rider, according to a House Democratic aide.

Republicans could amend the initial resolution creating the panel and bring it back to the floor, the Democratic aide told Rewire. Resolutions only require passage by one chamber, the aide said, providing a more failsafe option.

Another possibility is for Republicans to draw from the budget of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the panel.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking member, denounced the investigation following the disclosure of taxpayer dollars behind it.

“Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars recycling inflammatory and thoroughly discredited allegations of anti-abortion extremists,” Schakowsky told  Rewire in an email. “The Select Panel started with a lie, and has been conducted to perpetuate that lie through manufactured, misleading ‘evidence’ and suppression of facts that run contrary to the Republicans’ predetermined narrative. It would be bad enough if this were just a waste of taxpayer time and money. But this Panel is putting women’s health care and life-saving research at risk. America deserves better. Speaker Ryan can and should stop this witch hunt now.”

In a July 14 interview with Rewire, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), a once outspoken proponent of fetal tissue research, didn’t know how much, if any, committee funding has gone toward the select panel’s work. Upton referred Rewire to a committee spokesperson, who did not reply to requests for comment.

Select panel Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) similarly could not answer Rewire’s funding inquiries at a July 14 press conference providing an interim update on the investigation a year after the release of the first CMP videos. Blackburn deferred to Republican leadership regarding how much financial support Energy and Commerce may have provided the panel beyond the House’s reserve coffers.

“At this point, that is what we have,” she said.

Republican leaders have been increasingly vocal in their support for the panel. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in June said he trusts Blackburn to conduct the anti-choice investigation, though researchers said she jeopardized their privacy, safety, and job security through unredacted documents. Ryan cited the need for the panel’s work in response to Rewire’s funding questions at his July 14 press conference.

“We want this committee to keep doing its job, doing its work, they have [a] very important job to do,” he said.

Ryan elaborated on his support for the panel in a subsequent video, “We Are the Pro-Life Generation.”

“The panel found these weren’t isolated incidents—there’s an entire black market in aborted baby body parts,” he said. “And some of it is receiving taxpayer funding.”

Blackburn and other Republicans on the panel have made numerous references to “baby body parts” despite the link between such rhetoric and escalating anti-choice violence.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Group Faces Fundraising Gap in ‘Topsy-Turvy Year’

Amy Littlefield

“I will tell you that this has been the toughest year we have faced since I’ve been executive director of National Right to Life—and I came here in 1984—for our political fundraising,” David O’Steen announced at the annual National Right to Life Convention Friday.

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court dealt the anti-choice movement its most devastating blow in decades, one of the nation’s leading anti-choice groups gathered at an airport hotel in Virginia for its annual convention.

The 46th annual National Right to Life Convention arrived at what organizers acknowledged was an unusual political moment. Beyond the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down abortion restrictions in Texas, the anti-choice movement faces the likely nomination later this month of a Republican presidential candidate who once described himself as “very pro-choice.”

The mood felt lackluster as the three-day conference opened Thursday, amid signs many had opted not to trek to the hotel by Dulles airport, about an hour from Washington, D.C. With workshops ranging from “Pro-Life Concerns About Girl Scouts,” to “The Pro-Life Movement and Congress: 2016,” the conference seeks to educate anti-choice activists from across the United States.

While convention director Jacki Ragan said attendance numbers were about on par with past years, with between 1,000 and 1,100 registrants, the sessions were packed with empty chairs, and the highest number of audience members Rewire counted in any of the general sessions was 150. In the workshops, attendance ranged from as many as 50 people (at one especially popular panel featuring former abortion clinic workers) to as few as four.

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The attendance wasn’t the only sign of flagging enthusiasm.

“I will tell you that this has been the toughest year we have faced since I’ve been executive director of National Right to Life—and I came here in 1984—for our political fundraising,” National Right to Life Executive Director David O’Steen announced at Friday morning’s general session. “It’s been a topsy-turvy year. It’s been, for many people, a discouraging year. Many, many, many pro-life dollars, or dollars from people that would normally donate, were spent amongst 17 candidates in the Republican primary.”

O’Steen said the organization needed “$4 million that we do not have right now.”

When asked by Rewire to clarify details of the $4 million shortfall, O’Steen said, “You’re thinking this through more deeply than I have so far. Basically, the Right to Life movement, we will take the resources we have and we will use them as effectively as we can.”  

O’Steen said the organization wasn’t alone in its fundraising woes. “I think across many places, a lot of money was spent in these primaries,” he said. (An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found presidential candidates and affiliated groups spent $1 billion on the presidential race through March alone, nearly two-thirds of it on the Republican primary. Anti-choice favorite Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) spent more than than $70 million, higher than any other Republican.)

The National Right to Life Board of Directors voted to back Cruz in the Republican presidential primaries back in April. It has not yet formally backed Donald Trump.

“I really don’t know if there will be a decision, what it will be,” National Right to Life Committee President Carol Tobias told Rewire. “Everything has [been] kind of crazy and up in the air this year, so we’re going to wait and kind of see everything that happens. It’s been a very unusual year all the way around.”

Some in the anti-choice movement have openly opposed Trump, including conservative pundit Guy Benson, who declared at Thursday’s opening session, “I’m not sure if we have someone who is actually pro-life in the presidential race.”

But many at the convention seemed ready to rally behind Trump, albeit half-heartedly. “Let’s put it this way: Some people don’t know whether they should even vote,” said the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. “Of course you should … the situation we have now is just a heightened version of what we face in any electoral choice, namely, you’re choosing between two people who, you know, you can have problems with both of them.”

Another issue on the minds of many attendees that received little mention throughout the conference was the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down provisions in Texas requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and mandating clinics meet the standards of hospital-style surgery centers. The case did not challenge Texas’ 20-week abortion ban.

“We aren’t going to have any changes in our strategy,” Tobias told Rewire, outlining plans to continue to focus on provisions including 20-week bans and attempts to outlaw the common second-trimester abortion procedure of dilation and evacuation, which anti-choice advocates call “dismemberment” abortion.

But some conference attendees expressed skepticism about the lack of any new legal strategy.

“I haven’t heard any discussion at all yet about, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, how that weighs in strategically, not just with this legislation, but all pro-life legislation in the future,” Sam Lee, of Campaign Life Missouri, said during a panel discussion on so-called dismemberment abortion. “There has not been that discussion this weekend and that’s probably one of my disappointments right now.”

The Supreme Court decision has highlighted differing strategies within the anti-choice community. Americans United for Life has pushed copycat provisions like the two that were struck down in Texas to require admitting privileges and surgery center standards under the guise of promoting women’s health. National Right to Life, on the other hand, says it’s focused on boilerplate legislation that “makes the baby visible,” in an attempt to appeal to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cast a key vote to uphold a “partial-birth abortion” ban in 2007.

When asked by Rewire about the effect of the Texas Supreme Court case, James Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, appeared to criticize the AUL strategy in Texas. (Bopp is, among other things, the legal brain behind Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for corporate spending on elections.)

“This case was somewhat extreme, in the sense that there were 40 abortion clinics—now this is just corresponding in time, not causation, this is a correlation—there were 40 abortion clinics and after the law, there were six,” Bopp said. “That’s kind of extreme.”

Speaking to an audience of about ten people during a workshop on campaign finance, Bopp said groups seeking to restrict abortion would need to work harder to solidify their evidence. “People will realize … as you pass things that you’re going to have to prove this in court so you better get your evidence together and get ready to present it, rather than just assuming that you don’t have to do that which was the assumption in Texas,” he said. “They changed that standard. It changed. So you’ve gotta prove it. Well, we’ll get ready to prove it.”