After years of rallies in the cold, votes on bills that were going nowhere, and committee witch hunts and candidate pledges, the anti-abortion movement is on the verge of securing a major victory, even if it’s one that’s making some Republicans uncomfortable. There’s a reason that anti-abortion groups fought so hard for a provision defunding Planned Parenthood be included in a doomed 2015 Obamacare repeal bill. And it’s the moment they find themselves in now.
While even the earliest steps to push the larger legislation through again has been subject to all sorts of squabbles, a top anti-abortion group says that they are “really confident” that this time, a measure to block Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood will become law.
“I am sure that things are going to continue to move around,” said Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group focused on supporting the movement’s allied politicians. “But we are confident that this is something that the leadership has said that it will do and this is something that [President-elect Donald] Trump said he would do and now that all the pieces are falling into place.”
The latest piece to fall was House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) confirmation at a press conference last week that the Planned Parenthood defund provision would be a part of the legislative vehicle, known as reconciliation, that Republicans intend to use to repeal Obamacare.
Other GOP lawmakers have been less-than-committal on whether their Obamacare repeal will include that measure: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, said “let’s see” when asked about Ryan’s comments. But congressional leaders have given the group “assurances,” according to Quigley, that Republicans will push through a Planned Parenthood defund provision for incoming President Donald Trump to sign as part of their Obamacare repeal package.
“The Republicans proved last year that there was a pathway to getting this done and that was through the reconciliation legislation. So we want to see them do exactly that,” Quigley said
The provision would target Planned Parenthood by barring Medicaid enrollees from using the government insurance at entities, such as Planned Parenthood, that also perform abortions. (The Hyde amendment already prohibits use of taxpayer money on abortions themselves, so this would block funding for the other reproductive services Planned Parenthood offers).
The legislation was the product of Republican hell-raising after a series of so-called “sting” videos were released in the summer of 2015, alleging that the health care organization was illegally profiting off the harvesting of fetal organs. (The videos proved to be heavily edited and Planned Parenthood denies that its affiliates ever broke the law).
The videos led to months where GOP infighting dominated headlines over whether and how to attack federal funding for Planned Parenthood, with some Republicans vowing to shut down the government over funding for the group. Making matters even messier is that then-candidate Donald Trump appeared to play both sides of the issue: praising Planned Parenthood while supporting congressional attempts to defund it.
Anti-abortion groups landed a big win when it was included in an Obamacare repeal bill that passed by both chambers using reconciliation — avoiding a Democratic filibuster in the Senate — that landed on President Obama’s desk last year for his veto. From Donald Trump, they extracted his signature on a pledge committing to the defund measure and to other anti-abortion priorities.
“This is why we urged pro-lifers in Congress to include it in [the reconciliation package] in Congress last year, even though … everybody knew the President Obama would veto it,” Quigley said. “It’s so important to have these little inflection points along the way so when all the pieces are in place, it’s already been done and you just move forward on the next steps.”
Planned Parenthood isn’t taking the latest attack lying down. It is among the sponsors of the “Women’s March” taking place the day after the inauguration to protest Trump’s agenda, and has organized other events, including a petition drop outside of Ryan’s office last week.
“Look, the reason they’re trying to put this on the reconciliation bill is because I don’t think they have the votes in the United States Senate,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said on MSNBC this weekend. “This is essentially saying to low income women, you can’t go to Planned Parenthood for your cancer screenings and birth control. Any senator who votes to do that is hurting women in their own home state.”
Many Republicans have argued that the 2015 legislation should serve as the baseline for what Republicans do on health care — Planned Parenthood defund provision and all. At least one GOP lawmaker, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who voted for the 2015 legislation is now raising concerns about the Planned Parenthood provision being included.
“I know that Republican women here don’t want their party to be known as the party that takes away a woman’s ability to make their own health care choices,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told reporters on the Hill last week.