News Contraception

House Republicans Take Aim at Birth Control in Quest to Scuttle Senate Shutdown Deal

Adele M. Stan

To the House Republicans, who are hostage to their party’s Tea Party faction, there’s probably no dirtier word than “bipartisan”—except, perhaps, for the words “birth control.”

Click here for all our coverage of the government shutdown.

It was predictable, perhaps, that House Republicans would respond to word of a bipartisan Senate deal in the works with an attempt to scuttle it. And what better way to do so than to make a doomed attempt to remove the contraceptive benefit from the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?

The deal that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) huddled to hammer out on Tuesday aims to reopen the government—at least temporarily—and prevent the United States from going into default on its debt, as it is likely to do on Thursday, October 17, unless the Congress acts to raise the debt ceiling.

As Rewire reported, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) seems to be taking orders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who sent their lobbyist, Richard Doerflinger, to the right-wing Values Voter Summit this weekend to demand that Republicans attach to such “must-pass” legislation language that would allow any employer, on the basis of a moral or religious objection, to deny their employees coverage of birth control under employee-earned insurance plans. (The ACA mandates coverage of contraception as part of an essential package of health care; the law also requires the provision of those prescription methods without a deductible or co-pay.)

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

To the House Republicans, who are hostage to their party’s Tea Party faction, there’s probably no dirtier word than “bipartisan”—except, perhaps, for the words “birth control.” So, as Republican members of the House gathered to put together their own plan to ostensibly reopen the government and avert the debt default, they began bandying about potential amendments to such a bill, amendments—including one that would revoke the birth control provision from Obamacare—that are guaranteed to fail in the Senate and prolong the crisis. Both the bishops and the Republicans refer to this proposal as a “conscience clause.” (Other ideas, according to the Washington Post, include “eliminate[ing] employer health-care contributions for White House staff and members of Congress,” making cuts to Social Security or Medicare, or other spending cuts.)

“It is incredible that a narrow group of far-right politicians want to take away women’s access to birth control in order to re-open the federal government,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a written statement. “This is the same group of politicians that pushed for the government shutdown in the first place—not the ones working to avoid a debt default and reopen the government.”

Richards noted in her statement that the benefit, once the health-care law goes into full effect, would be available to some 47 million women.

In case you’re wondering just who those politicians are, Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy has a rundown here. Notable among them is a certain congressman from Utah. From the Mother Jones report:

“There are a lot of people, and I’m one of those, who are really pushing for a conscience clause to be included,” said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), a former consultant and End-Times novelist who was elected last fall. “They want to have some principle that they could go home and say, ‘we fought for this, and we got this.'”

At the time this story was published, Senate leaders were still negotiating a proposal for a bill to avert a default on the U.S. debt and to reopen the government. House leaders gave a press conference in which Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) restated a demand for changes to the health-care law.

News Law and Policy

Senate Rejects Government Shutdown Over Planned Parenthood

Emily Crockett

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to block a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood for one year, but the clock is still ticking on a potential government shutdown.

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to block a bill that would fund the federal government through December 11, but defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

A majority of senators voted to block the bill, and the final vote was 52 to 47 against advancing it.

In many Senate filibusters, a proposal “loses” despite having majority support because the majority wasn’t big enough to reach the filibuster-proof 60 votes.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

That wasn’t the case for this measure, which attracted eight Republican “no” votes (Dean Heller of Nevada, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire), and only one Democratic “yes” vote (Joe Manchin of West Virginia).

The bill was the opening salvo in a potential government shutdown fight. Lawmakers are racing against the clock to pass a budget bill before September 30 to avoid a shutdown.

Some right-wing Republicans, notably 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz (R-TX) and members of the House Freedom Caucus, have been militant about the idea that Planned Parenthood should receive no federal funding. They point to unproven allegations in a series of deceptively edited, undercover videos that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit.

Numerous state and federal investigations of Planned Parenthood have so far uncovered no wrongdoing. The attack videos, made by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), were released in coordination with GOP legislators.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have used this tactic to make a “Tea Party political football” out of women’s health, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said on the Senate floor.

“These shutdown threats will not work,” Murray said. “They didn’t work in 2011, when House Republicans tried to defund Planned Parenthood in the budget at the last minute. They didn’t work in 2013, when extreme members of the GOP were dead-set on repealing Obamacare. And they will not work today.”

The Obama administration issued a veto threat against the budget proposal ahead of the vote.

The bill contains “highly objectionable provisions that advance a narrow ideological agenda,” a White House statement said, and “would limit access to health care for women, men, and families across the Nation, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals.”

Following the failed procedural vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who did not favor the strategy of trying to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, filed another short-term spending bill.

That new bill funds Planned Parenthood, and a vote on the measure is expected early next week.

Permanently defunding Planned Parenthood would cost the government $130 million over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. A one-year defunding measure would likely come at the cost of more unwanted pregnancies and reduced access to health care for up to 630,000 people.

News Law and Policy

Senate Prepares to Kick Off Planned Parenthood Shutdown Fight

Emily Crockett

Mitch McConnell offered up a bill on Tuesday that would fund the government, but defund Planned Parenthood. The bill is expected to receive a vote on Thursday.

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

Although he has publicly admitted that trying to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood is a bad strategy that won’t work as long as President Obama is in office, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is setting up a vote to do just that.

McConnell offered up a bill on Tuesday that would fund the government, but defund Planned Parenthood. The bill is expected to receive a vote on Thursday immediately after Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress.

Attempting to defund Planned Parenthood using a spending bill, as McConnell’s bill does, could lead to a government shutdown. Obama is expected to veto any bill defunding the women’s health organization, and the government will shut down on October 1 if Congress can’t pass a budget bill that the president will sign.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

McConnell’s bill is a continuing resolution (CR), a temporary funding bill. Democrats in the Senate are almost certain to filibuster the bill, not just because it defunds Planned Parenthood but also because it increases military spending by $13 billion without increasing domestic spending.

Both military and domestic spending were slashed across the board in 2013’s sequester budget cuts, which Democrats in Congress have vowed to see lifted before they will support any spending bills.

McConnell has said that the “cold hard reality” for the GOP is that it cannot defund Planned Parenthood as long as Obama is in office, and other members of the GOP leadership, like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), also have no appetite for another shutdown fight.

But right-wing members of Congress have called for defunding in response to deceptively edited videos released by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress.

The most likely outcome is that McConnell will introduce the defunding bill, wait until it inevitably fails to break a Democratic filibuster, and then introduce a “clean” CR that does not defund Planned Parenthood.

If that clean bill passes the Senate, it’s uncertain whether Boehner can get enough votes to pass it in the House. The right-wing House Freedom Caucus has vowed to oppose any spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood.