Abortion funding fight looms over Senate appropriations process

Abortion funding fight looms over Senate appropriations process

US Capitol dome with clouds. Credit: DanThronberg/Shutterstock
US Capitol dome with clouds. Credit: DanThronberg/Shutterstock

.- When the Senate returns for business on Oct. 15, it will have little more than a month to pass legislation funding the government—and pro-lifers are concerned that attempts to circumvent protections against taxpayer funding of abortion could be successful.

Shortly before the Senate left for the October recess, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a funding bill for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and related agencies, that increased U.S. international family planning assistance and reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA).

Some pro-lifers are concerned that this is problematic because the appropriations could end up increasing funding of groups that promote abortions abroad.

The bill including Shaheen’s amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and, like other bills funding various parts of the government, will have to be approved by the full Senate. After that, any differences between it and the House funding bill would have to be resolved in negotiations between members from both chambers; the final product would then have to pass both chambers to reach the President’s desk.  

However, for pro-life advocates, the approval of Shaheen’s amendment by the full Senate Appropriations Committee set a troubling precedent because it established a “ground floor” in fights over abortion funding in the budget negotiations.  

Shaheen had previously tried to offer an amendment directly repealing the Mexico City Policy but, she claimed, she was denied the opportunity to do so by Senate Republicans.

The Mexico City Policy bars U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration expanded upon this policy, applying the funding prohibition to an estimated $8.8 billion in U.S. global health assistance.

Shaheen’s amendment that was successfully approved by the committee would increase international family planning and reproductive health funding to $665 million. If the Mexico City Policy were to be repealed in the future—as it has been by the last two Democratic presidents—this increased funding would go to organizations that promote abortions abroad.

Certain domestic organizations promoting abortions already receive foreign aid, and could stand to receive even more funding if Shaheen’s amendment is enacted into law in spite of the Mexico City Policy.

The group Pathfinder International, for instance, receives U.S. assistance and says on its website that it works “to ensure access to comprehensive abortion care for all women.” The group Population Council says it teaches safe abortions, and claims that “[w]here abortion is not legal, we document the public health and cost burden of unsafe abortion.”

Other abortion-supporting groups that could receive more U.S. assistance include Engender Health and PATH.

Shaheen’s amendment also reinstated funding of the UNFPA. The Trump administration has redirected funding away from the UNFPA for three straight years because of the fund’s partnership with the Chinese government, which has instituted a coercive two-child policy and has enforced it through forced abortions and sterilizations.

Currently, the $32 million in funding of the UNFPA under Shaheen’s amendment could not be used in China, cannot be “comingled” with other UNFPA funds, and would be blocked if UNFPA funds abortions.

In addition, it would be subject to the Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibiting funding of organizations that perform or participate in forced abortions and sterilizations; the administration has invoked this amendment as an authority when announcing that UNFPA funding is being redirected.

Nevertheless, the reinstatement of UNFPA funding would seek to undercut the administration’s policy and could at least be a statement of support for the organization despite its partnership with the Chinese government on family planning.

Shaheen’s amendment comes after several attempts in the Senate to insert “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills to undo pro-life policies, despite an early bi-partisan agreement not to do so during the appropriations process.

The chamber had to pass a dozen appropriations bills by Sept. 30 to fund various government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, but disagreements on border wall funding and pro-abortion amendments derailed the process.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to repeal the Title X Protect Life Rule in a proposed amendment for a bill funding the Departments of Labor, HHS, Education, and related agencies. The Protect Life Rule forbade Title X family planning grants from going to entities that were co-located with abortion clinics, or that referred for abortions.

Instead of passing the appropriations bills, Congress instead passed a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government through November 21, setting up the new deadline for perhaps another showdown over abortion funding.

Also included in Shaheen’s amendment was a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era nondiscrimination rule, that USAID contractors cannot discriminate against beneficiaries on the basis of “gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.”

The 2016 USAID rule was interpreted as a prohibition on discrimination against individuals identifying as LGBTI, but the inclusion of “pregnancy” has led some pro-lifers to believe it could also be interpreted to prohibit “discrimination” against women seeking abortions.

For instance, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination on basis of sex, which HHS interpreted to include discrimination by health care providers against the “termination of pregnancy.”

Shaheen’s amendment would also mean that USAID has to create a mechanism to investigate claims of discrimination. As a press release by Shaheen’s office explained, “The investigation would ensure biases by the administration regarding reproductive health do not interfere or alter the delivery of services on the ground.”

Republicans in the committee inserted a mandate that such investigations be conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and not from within the State Department.

Tags: Abortion, US Senate