After months of focusing on economic rather than social issues, the House this week is poised to take up a measure that will bring the abortion-rights debate back to the floor for the first time since May.
On Friday, the House will consider H.R. 358, the “Protect Life Act.” The measure, introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), would prohibit federal funds from going toward any health care plan that covers abortion services; it also would block funding from being withheld from institutions that are opposed to providing abortions.
The bill is one of two abortion-related measures introduced by House Republicans in this Congress; the other is H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which passed the House in early May on a near-party-line vote.
As The Fix’s Rachel Weiner notes, social issues have been largely absent from the presidential campaign trail this cycle, a product of the strong focus placed by most voters on jobs and the country’s still-struggling economy.
On Capitol Hill, by contrast, action on abortion-related measures has come in fits and starts.
The summer’s debt-ceiling debate saw members of both parties put social issues on the back burner; neither side offered any abortion-related riders that could have derailed the debt limit legislation, potentially sending the country into its first-ever default.
But in February, as the first government-funding debate of the 112th Congress ramped up, the House voted on several amendments related to abortion rights, and federal funding of Planned Parenthood became a key point of contention in the broader spending fight.
Planned Parenthood funding became an issue once again in April, when Congress took up its eight (and final) stopgap funding bill for the 2011 fiscal year. As part of the deal hammered out by the White House and congressional leaders, both chambers held votes on two measures that would have blocked federal funding of Planned Parenthood as well as the national health-care law; those measures passed the House but not the Senate.
The House has also voted since then on several abortion-related amendments to other measures.
Friday’s vote on H.R. 358 will likely mark the beginning of a new round in the abortion-rights fight on Capitol Hill: when both parties do battle over the next two months on the budget for the remainder of the 2012 fiscal year, social issues will again be in the spotlight. And a move last month by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) to probe Planned Parenthood’s financial records has also returned the issue to the fore.
Groups on both sides of the abortion issue have begun gearing up for the latest fight. The anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List hosted a panel at last weekend’s Values Voter Summit titled “Exposing and Defunding Planned Parenthood.” And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent a fundraising e-mail to supporters late last month charging that Republicans’ “solution to the economic crisis” is to “cut NPR, defund Planned Parenthood and bust unions.”