Republicans nix amendment to spending bill that restricted abortion pill access 

abortion pill 1 Hundreds of pro-life and pro-abortion demonstrators hold rallies alongside each other as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the high-stakes abortion pill case Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration, March 26, 2024. | Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Republican lawmakers chose not to include language in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) spending bill that would restrict the abortion pill mifepristone — but are continuing with other pro-life efforts in some of its appropriations proposals.

The House Appropriations Committee, led by Republicans, unveiled its agriculture funding proposal for fiscal year 2025 on Monday, June 10. Lawmakers did not include language that would have prohibited pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS from dispensing the abortion pill mifepristone, even though that had previously been one of the caucus’ priorities. It also left out language that would have reversed the FDA’s approval of dispensing the abortion pill via the mail, another earlier priority.

Those provisions had been included in the Republican funding proposals the previous year. However, the effort fell apart because of Democratic opposition. To become laws, the spending proposals need to pass the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden. 

The FDA changed its regulations on mifepristone in December 2021 to allow prescriptions to be received through the mail. It again changed its regulations in January 2023 to allow retail pharmacy chains to provide the abortion pill to patients who have a prescription. The new rules were part of efforts in Biden’s administration to expand abortion access. 

Mifepristone regulations allow doctors to prescribe the drug to abort an unborn child up to 10 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, at which point the child has a fetal heartbeat, brain activity, and partially developed eyes, ears, lips, and nostrils. The drug works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which cuts off the unborn child’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. A second pill, misoprostol, is taken shortly thereafter to expel the body.

Rather, the nearly $25.9 billion bill focuses on support for farmers and ranchers, funding for agriculture research, deregulation, rural broadband funds, and food and drug safety among other things. The proposal is nearly $2.7 billion less than Biden’s proposal, leaving out his requests for funding for climate hubs, pay hikes for federal employees, and other funding priorities.

“This … bill prioritizes U.S. agriculture, food security, and a safe medical supply,” Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican, said in a statement.

“It strengthens our rural communities by investing in broadband and vital nutrition programs,” Cole said. “Safeguards to protect our farmlands from being ceded to foreign adversaries are also included. The legislation supports our food supply, producers, and American families.”

Pro-life efforts in separate appropriation bill

Although Republican lawmakers sidestepped pro-life language in the agriculture appropriation bill, the caucus did back pro-life language in legislation to fund the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The legislation provides funding for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and related agencies.

The legislation includes the Hyde Amendment, which would prohibit agencies that receive funding through the bill from using any taxpayer funds to support abortion. It has exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. This prohibition on tax-funded abortion has been included for decades; however, Biden removed the text in his fiscal year 2025 proposal and numerous Democrats have called for its exclusion from the bill this year.

Under current VA policy, the department is allowed to provide abortions when there is a health risk to the mother; however, “health” is not clearly defined. The Republican proposal would add a definition, allowing abortions in the cases of rape, incest, and “where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.”

Biden has threatened to veto the legislation as written. 

The legislation would provide more than $147.5 billion in total funding, including nearly $18 billion for defense, which is $412 million higher than Biden’s defense proposal.

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