News Abortion

House Committee Advances D.C. Spending Ban on Abortion

Adele M. Stan

Every year since 1996, Congress has blocked the District of Columbia from spending its own local tax dollars to fund abortions for low-income women. This year is no different.

Despite the efforts of Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee to allow the District of Columbia to spend its own local tax dollars to fund abortions for low-income women, Republicans succeeded Wednesday in passing a ban on such funding as part of a general spending bill for the federal government.

A long-standing measure known as the Hyde Amendment forbids the use of federal tax dollars for abortion services, but states that accept federal Medicaid funding are allowed to commit their own tax dollars to subsidizing abortions for women enrolled in the program. However, things are different in the District of Columbia, since it is not a state and Congress has oversight of the nation’s capital.

As they did last week during the subcommittee hearing in which the anti-choice rider was offered, activists and members of pro-choice groups tweeted their outrage throughout the mark-up session, using the hashtags #WeAreDC and #StandWithDCWomen. Every year since 1996, Republicans have succeeded in passing this restriction on the District’s spending.

At a mark-up meeting of the full appropriations committee, Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (NY), reiterated the objections they raised last week when the measure was included in a mark-up by the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, offering an amendment that would have removed the ban on local abortion funding by the D.C. government from the bill. It was voted down, on a largely party-line vote.

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One member who voted to strike down the ban was Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), who recently took an apartment in the District. “I like spending time here but I’m not sure I want to live here,” Quigley said, according to the Washington Post’s Ben Pershing. “I prefer to live in a free state.”

The spending bill also cuts federal funding to the District of Columbia by 6 percent, including funding for the local court system and school construction. It also slashes federal funding for DC’s Tuition Assistance Grant Program in half, a particularly punitive measure for a city with deep pockets of poverty, and only one public university.

According to the Washington Post, Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) summed the committee’s actions on the District’s governance this way:

“What you’re doing here is not just on the issue of abortion,” Serrano said. “It’s a continuation of this behavior for years that says that we are the city council, we are the mayor, and they’re just some forgotten area of the nation that we happen to visit a couple of days a week and then we tell them how to spend their local funds.”

The full House of Representatives will vote on the spending bill later in the current congressional session.

News Abortion

Utah Republicans Plan to Defund Planned Parenthood, Restrict Abortion Access in 2016

Nicole Knight Shine

Republican lawmakers announced the proposed anti-choice measures at the state capitol, flanked by opponents of abortion rights in a press conference organized by the Utah Pro-Life Coalition.

Two Utah Republicans have set reproductive health in their crosshairs, announcing Wednesday that they will introduce bills in 2016 to strip Planned Parenthood of funding and outlaw certain abortion procedures based on scientifically dubious findings.

Sen. Margaret Dayton (R-Orem) said her measure would bar organizations that “promote or provide abortions” from receiving federal or state funds, as the Deseret News reported. Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) said in an interview with Rewire on Thursday that his bill would “prohibit abortion after the point of development where the unborn child experiences pain.”

The Utah lawmakers’ proposals come three months after Republican Gov. Gary Herbert ordered the state health department to halt funding of Planned Parenthood’s Utah affiliates.

In October, following Planned Parenthood’s challenge of the governor’s August order, a federal district court judge extended a temporary injunction to keep funding in place through the end of 2015. A final decision is expected by December 31.

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Documents from the Utah governor indicated the health-care provider received $222,058 in 2015, federal money that went to STD screening and education, sexual education curriculum, and pregnancy tests for victims of rape and sexual assault. Planned Parenthood officials confirmed they receive no direct state funds.

The lawmakers announced the proposed anti-choice measures at the state capitol, flanked by opponents of abortion rights in a press conference organized by the Utah Pro-Life Coalition.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway called the measures a political ploy to score points at the expense of Utah residents.

“The majority of voters nationwide, including 62 percent of Republicans, say that attempting to end safe and legal abortion before the point of viability is the wrong issue for state legislatures to be spending their time on,” Galloway said in a statement.

In a phone interview with Rewire, Bramble said the ban would use National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) copycat legislation on “pain-capable” abortion as a starting point. Details, he said, would be forthcoming following research on legislation that would pass judicial muster.

Thirteen states have enacted bans on abortion after 20 weeks, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. The NRLC has spurred the abortion restrictions. Federal and state courts have consistently found 20-week abortion prohibitions unconstitutional, with Arizona becoming the latest state to see its anti-choice law struck down.

“Simply saying 20 weeks doesn’t meet the standard,” Bramble said of court challenges to the legislative bans.

Although lawmakers have cited “fetal pain” in backing the prohibitions, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has found no scientific basis for the claim of fetal pain before the third trimester.

The measures are the latest salvo by Republicans in Utah and elsewhere to strip Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars following the release of heavily edited videos claiming to show its affiliates trafficking in fetal tissue. Eight state investigations into Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the attack videos produced by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress have been widely discredited.

The videos have become a cudgel in a sweeping attack on reproductive rights for Republican lawmakers.

“If we could run a bill that would repeal Roe v. Wade, we would,” Bramble reportedly said on Wednesday. “There is a compelling state interest in protecting the vulnerable among us.”

News Abortion

Senate Preparing to Vote on Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban

Emily Crockett

A vote on a 20-week abortion ban could come as soon as this month, but it's not clear whether that will appease right-wing GOP lawmakers determined to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Senate could vote this month on a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, Politico reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly plans to file cloture on “pro-life” legislation at the end of next week, which could include other bills in addition to the 20-week ban.

Twenty-week abortion bans are considered unconstitutional because they violate Roe v. Wade’s protection of abortion rights up until the point of fetal viability, which is well after 20 weeks. Passing them at the state and federal level has been a primary strategy of the anti-choice movement, which hopes to use the constitutional conflict as a means of overturning Roe.

McConnell’s move could set up a vote on the ban somewhere between the final debate on the Iran deal and the end of the month, when the Senate will have to pass a spending bill to keep the government funded.

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It’s an open question whether the Republican Party’s crusade to defund Planned Parenthood will get in the way of passing that spending bill. The 42-member House Freedom Caucus this week officially declared that they will vote against any spending bill that contains funding for Planned Parenthood. If Congress passed a spending bill defunding Planned Parenthood and President Obama vetoed it, or if Congress couldn’t pass a spending bill that didn’t defund Planned Parenthood, Republicans could once again shut down the federal government.

GOP leadership has little appetite for a shutdown fight over Planned Parenthood, which has been under attack by conservative lawmakers since an anti-choice front group released deceptively edited videos claiming that Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue research program broke the law.

“It’s nearly unanimous, I think, the view that a shutdown doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood and doesn’t help us maintain our majorities so we can have some influence on who the next members of the United States Supreme Court are, and elect a Republican president,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said.

But the Freedom Caucus’ opposition could make it complicated for leadership to get the votes they need to pass a clean funding bill. Twenty-eight Republican men (only some of whom are also Freedom Caucus members) have signed a letter pledging to do everything in their power, including shutting down the government, to cut off Planned Parenthood funding.

A vote on the 20-week abortion ban may be the GOP leadership’s way of trying to placate their right-wing members and base to discourage a shutdown fight over Planned Parenthood. Some anti-choice groups have put direct pressure on senators to support the bill.

It’s not clear whether anti-choice groups and lawmakers would be satisfied without a Planned Parenthood fight. One lawmaker who has pledged to block Planned Parenthood funding, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), even tried to connect the 20-week abortion ban to Planned Parenthood in a hearing this week.

Neither a 20-week abortion ban nor a bill defunding Planned Parenthood are likely to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and both would undoubtedly be vetoed by President Obama.