Senate sends COVID relief bill back to House without pro-life provisions

Capitol_dark_Nicole_Glass_Photography_Shutterstock.jpg Credit: Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock

The House could be voting as soon as Tuesday on a COVID relief package that pro-life groups warn would increase funding of abortions.

On Saturday, the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of 2021 by a vote of 50-49, sending the legislation back to the House to be reconciled and passed again. The relief bill, which includes funding of vaccine distribution, economic relief, and stimulus checks, does not include abortion funding restrictions that previous relief bills were subject to.

Thus, pro-life leaders have warned that the billions of dollars in health care spending under the legislation could be used to fund abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, or subsidize abortion coverage in health care plans.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) attempted to insert a "Hyde" provision into the legislation specifying that the funds could not be used for elective abortions. The measure failed to receive the necessary 60 votes for inclusion in the bill, but it was supported by three Democrats-Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Tim Kaine (Va.).

However, all three Democrats ultimately supported the bill on its final passage. All Republicans voted against it except for Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) did not vote, while Independent senators Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine) supported the act.

"Shame on Senate Democrats who exploited COVID-19 relief to expand taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, breaking with more than four decades of bipartisan consensus," stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

The Hyde Amendment is 44 year-old policy that bars federal funding of elective abortions. It is normally enacted in law each year as part of budget bills, but more Democratic leaders in recent years have pushed for the policy to be repealed.

A group of House Democrats last week asked President Joe Biden-who now opposes the Hyde Amendment after being a long-time supporter-to not include the policy in the 2022 fiscal year budget.

COVID relief bills in 2020 did keep the policy intact, including the CARES Act which passed Congress in March of 2020. That bill had provisions prohibiting funding of abortions, and was also tailored to exclude Planned Parenthood from emergency small business loans. Planned Parenthood affiliates, however, did ultimately apply for and unlawfully receive $80 million in emergency loans from the Small Business Administration.

On Friday, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference implored President Biden and Congress not to force pro-life Americans to oppose the COVID relief package.

"We urge President Biden and the leadership on Capitol Hill not to force upon Americans the wrenching moral decision whether to preserve the lives and health of the born or unborn, all of whom are our vulnerable neighbors in need," said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles on Friday.

The Senate version of the American Rescue Plan also includes an expansion of the child tax credit, paid out through a monthly cash benefit of up to $300 per child, the New York Times reported.

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