WASHINGTON — After years of legislation blocking abortions in their home states, Republican lawmakers are again pushing forward with anti-abortion bills in the coming weeks, using the same government funding strategy they used last year — though this time without a need for a tiebreaking vote from the Supreme Court.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) this week put forward legislation that would block federal family planning dollars from going to Planned Parenthood, a move that Republican strategists say bolsters their argument to voters that the agency is too closely connected to abortion services to qualify for the taxpayer funding. The House Judiciary Committee’s vote on the bill was scheduled for Thursday.
The budget slashed Planned Parenthood’s $400 million annual budget, preventing it from receiving federal family planning dollars. But the group lost millions of dollars in similar funding as a result of last year’s budget deal, and last month had to start turning away patients.
The House GOP bill would block federal family planning funds from going to any health centers that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says receive one-third or more of their revenue from federal or other government money.
HHS currently places no such restrictions on other anti-abortion groups.
The National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion organization, applauds the bill as an important tool to cut off funding from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, which receives some $500 million a year from the federal government.
Similar bills in the Senate and House would block money from Planned Parenthood until it either stops doing abortions or changes its funding pattern to a different group, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
King has introduced a related anti-abortion bill in the House, but it has stalled because of House Democratic leaders’ objections. There is some hope that the Republican push for federal family planning dollars could free up money for the bill.
Similar conservative bills that pushed through the House last year fell just short of the 60 votes needed to move forward in the Senate. Last month, the Senate GOP joined the House and passed a resolution that approved GOP-drafted nondiscrimination rules for federal contracts, exempting religious employers.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said such bills “will fail in the Senate” if they continue to try to get votes from Democrats.
Schumer also chided conservatives in the House and Senate for walking away from Democratic offers to work with them on the abortion issue.
“Republican extremists refuse to act, and instead continue to try and find a way to block women’s access to basic health care,” Schumer said in a statement. “They will only win elections by providing better solutions to the problems they say they’re trying to solve.”
HHS Secretary Tom Price, speaking Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted that about 70 percent of the family planning funds available to health centers do not go to Planned Parenthood.
He also said the Obama administration explicitly prohibits funding to Planned Parenthood or to health centers that are solely focused on abortion services.
But Ryan Dirks, who runs Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative social organization, said Republicans shouldn’t leave themselves vulnerable to Democrats by focusing on abortion funding as their top legislative priority. Dirks said it is likely that the party will win on other issues, including votes on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and on a plan to end the deduction for state and local taxes.
“This feels more like picking a political fight with the Democrats than a fight on the issues,” Dirks said. “And I think it does the GOP a disservice.”