Congress debates abortion funding in COVID relief

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Members of Congress on Thursday debated abortion funding restrictions in a proposed COVID relief package, with one member comparing abortion coverage to cancer treatments.


"Abortion is health care, and excluding abortion from COBRA coverage makes as little sense as excluding cancer coverage," Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said of an amendment to bar funding of abortion coverage in health coverage subsidies for unemployed workers.


In response, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that "[r]eal healthcare in the case of a difficult pregnancy looks like addressing the illness of the mother or unborn child; not eliminating the child. Real doctors heal; they don't harm."


Several House committees convened on Thursday to consider and advance measures for a massive COVID-19 relief package. President Biden had proposed nearly $2 trillion in funding of health care and economic relief in response to the pandemic.


Democratic leadership have already signaled that they will pass a coronavirus relief bill with or without Republican support in the House and Senate. Pro-life groups have warned that the relief proposals do not include sufficient pro-life protections-and thus could fund abortions, abortion coverage, and abortion providers in a number of ways.


The House Democrats' proposal released this week includes $750 million in funding of global health, and billions of dollars for community health centers. It also includes expanded subsidies towards health plans and COBRA coverage.


Within the committee hearings themselves, members debated the ethics of abortion funding.


In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, members discussed the $50 million in additional funding of the Title X family planning program. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) introduced an amendment redirecting the funding to youth suicide prevention, as the Title X funds could go to abortion providers.


The Trump administration in 2019 required Title X grant recipients to neither refer for abortions, nor be co-located with abortion facilities. This resulted in Planned Parenthood withdrawing from the program and forfeiting an estimated $60 million in annual funds, rather than comply with the new mandates.

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President Biden has already begun the process of reversing that rule, and some Republicans on the committee thus did not want additional funding of Title X if abortion providers would benefit from the program.


"We know that Title X has been used to fund abortion providers," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) stated.


However, committee Democrats accused Republicans of being anti-contraception and hurting women's health.


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Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) defended the access of abortion providers-such as Planned Parenthood-to the Title X program. "For many women, the only doctor they see in a year is someone who works at Planned Parenthood or at another clinic that gets Title X funds," she said on Thursday.


Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a Chaldean Catholic, also opposed the pro-life requirements for the Title X program and said it is about family planning, not abortion.


Eshoo said she often asks new committee members about their families. "I don't know one member of our committee that has 8, 10, 12, 14 children," she said. "This isn't about abortion. This is about family planning."


Rep. Lesko said that for many pro-life members, their beliefs on life are "part of our faith" and "ingrained in us."


"So when you say that we're attacking women, I totally disagree. Because half of the babies that are aborted are going to be women," she said to fellow members. Lesko's amendment failed in a 31-26 vote.


During a markup of COVID relief in the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ill.) introduced an amendment to ensure protections against funding of abortions in health coverage.


The relief measure would fund COBRA health insurance premiums for unemployed workers, and Walorski's amendment would have ensured that federal subsidies could not pay for abortion coverage.


"I believe every human life is precious, and taxpayers should not be forced to pay for the destruction of life," Walorski said on Thursday. Her amendment failed in committee.


Rep. Chu opposed Walorski's effort and compared funding abortion coverage with funding coverage for cancer treatments.


In a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) responded to accusations that pro-life members were just trying to "score cheap political points" with their amendments.


"We hold sincere beliefs that life is sacred from the point of conception to natural death, and we truly believe that violating that moral code is a stain on our entire society and our entire world," Foxx said.

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