The plan hatched by the GOP leadership in Congress to appease abortion hardliners and avoid a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding shows little sign of working so far.
Facing a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government, GOP leaders in both chambers decided they would fast-track standalone anti-abortion bills in an effort to allow conservative Republicans to express their anger over a series of “sting” videos claiming to show that Planned Parenthood is illegally harvesting the tissue of aborted fetuses. The leadership hoped that with those votes out of the way, the path would be clear for long-delayed bills to fund the government in the new fiscal year, even if those bills contained money for Planned Parenthood.
But anti-abortion groups and conservative House members are not backing down from their hard line. They are reiterating that they will not vote for bills that include Planned Parenthood funding under any circumstances, despite the maneuvering by leaders to vent their outrage over the videos. If anything, anti-abortion groups are amping up the pressure on lawmakers not to back down from the fight.
Asked by TPM Monday whether the separate bills were enough to address the calls to defund Planned Parenthood, Americans United For Life’s top lawyer Ovide Lamontagne said via email, “No, Congress should do whatever it can to defund Planned Parenthood until all viable options are exhausted.”
From the anti-abortion movement’s perspective, it’s time for Republicans to make good on their campaign promises and activists believe that Democrats will ultimately suffer the political consequences if they block the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, which receives some $500 million for non-abortive services.
“Letting it go would be a huge mistake,” said David Christensen, vice president for government affairs at the conservative Family Research Council, told TPM Monday. “Instead of just sort of seeing a standalone vote on bills, we definitely want to see the momentum build to put it on to something to bounce it back to the Senate,” Christensen said.
Abortion foes stand a much better chance in the House, where the 40-something-member House Freedom Caucus doubled down on its shutdown threats in a statement last week and where leadership is unlikely to be able to pass a “clean” funding bill without either their support or the support of some Democrats.
In a sampling of some conservative lawmakers Monday, TPM was unable to find any members who had changed their stance on opposing any spending bills that included Planned Parenthood funding now that leadership had put forward votes on separate bills.
Their continued support for the defund movement comes after the announcement by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Friday the plan to vote on the two standalone bills: one that would impose a year-long moratorium on Planned Parenthood funding and another that would stiffen penalties for medical providers who violated the Born Alive Infants Protection Act.
Republican lawmakers are facing pressure from anti-abortion groups that have spent months and even years coordinating on the video campaign the prompted the calls that Planned Parenthood be defunded.
Live Action — an anti-abortion group with ties to the Center for Medical Progress, which produced the videos — issued a memo to congressional leaders Monday arguing that it was “imperative that Congress immediately stop funding Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars.”
“Please do not give up on the one million Americans Live Action represents through our supporters, or the tens of millions of pro-life Americans, who want to see women cared for and children protected,” the letter said.
The Susan B. Anthony List, a group that spearheads funding for anti-abortion candidates, also doubled down on the shutdown fight after GOP leaders offered the standalone bills.
“It is vital that the House register its stance on defunding Planned Parenthood with a meaningful vote,” President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “No one should feel comfortable affixing his or her name to a budget that prolongs this atrocity. It is up to President Obama to make clear why he believes our government has no higher priority than guaranteeing that the abortion industry continue the piecemeal sale of the unborn without losing a drop of their federal revenue stream.”
Abortion foes face much bleaker prospects in the Senate, where the movement to shutdown the government over Planned Parenthood is being led by two presidential candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) but is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell told Politico that a shutdown fight over Planned Parenthood is an “an exercise in futility.” Taking an implied shot at Cruz who championed a different shutdown fight in 2013, McConnell said: “Shutting down the government, it doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood any more than shutting down the government two years ago would have defunded Obamacare.”
Unattached to any must-pass spending legislation, the House bills likely won’t make it to the Senate, where leadership has focused attention on legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks instead.
In the meantime, Republican leaders have launched their own PR campaigns to deter conservative lawmakers from replicating the Obamacare shutdown fight of 2013.