The House passed two abortion-related bills Friday, including one that would strip federal health-care funding from Planned Parenthood for one year, but it remains unclear whether the votes would appease conservatives who have threatened a government shutdown over the organization.
The votes followed months of intense focus on Planned Parenthood prompted by undercover videos released by an activist group claiming they show violations of federal laws prohibiting the sales of fetal tissue for profit and restricting certain abortion procedures. Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the videos have been unfairly manipulated as it has fought off attempts to end its federal support.
But neither bill is likely to become law as Senate Democrats have filibustered similar measures, and President Obama has indicated he would veto both bills.
That’s why the move is unlikely to stave off growing fears of a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Since House conservatives know the bill to defund Planned Parenthood is unlikely to be enacted, they’re unlikely to back off their desire to attach it to a must-pass government spending measure to keep the government open. But again, neither Senate Democrats nor Obama will accept such language, triggering the standoff.
Nonetheless, House Republicans hoped to appease conservatives with the abortion-related votes.
One bill passed Friday, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, would impose criminal penalties on medical personnel who fail to aid an infant born after an attempted abortion. The other, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, imposes a one-year moratorium on federal funding for the group, which Republicans say will allow for a thorough investigation of its practices. Any funding, supporters said, would be redirected to clinics that do not offer abortions.
“Most people think that is common sense,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), sponsor of the defunding bill. “If there is reason to investigate, then there is reason to withhold taxpayer dollars during that period of time. The American taxpayer has been clear for a very long time that they do not want federal funds spent on abortion.”
Democrats pointed out that Planned Parenthood has long been prohibited from spending federal money on abortions, thanks to appropriations riders dating back to the 1970s. And in a floor debate Friday, they called the bill an attack on women’s health care and noted that other health-care providers would be unable to absorb all of Planned Parenthood’s hundreds of thousands of patients.
“This bill is dumb, it’s foolish, and it’s mean-spirited,” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.). “The bill is based upon lies and exaggerations. If you want to have a truthful debate, then let’s talk about the 400,000 Pap smears, the 500,000 breast exams, the 4.5 million STD and HIV tests that Planned Parenthood does each year.”
Planned Parenthood’s affiliated clinics are together the country’s largest provider of abortions. But they also perform other women’s health and family planning services, which are funded through Medicaid and Title X federal grants totaling about $450 million a year.
The organization decried the vote Friday. “These bills are a callous attempt to insert politics into women’s health, and we’re grateful that the Senate and the president will stop them from becoming law,” said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Republicans and Democrats sparred over the undercover videos, which have been released by the Center for Medical Progress over the course of the summer. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) called them part of a “coordinated, broad-based smear campaign full of distortions and misinformation.” Key context was edited out of the videos, she said, including footage of exculpatory comments from Planned Parenthood executives.
But Republicans said the videos spoke for themselves and lambasted Democrats for trying to undermine their content: “If they want to send one taxpayer dime to Planned Parenthood after watching them, shame on them,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.).
The votes broke down mostly along party lines, with the Planned Parenthood bill passing 241 to 187 and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act passing 248 to 177.
While public attention has been focused on the Planned Parenthood bill, anti-abortion activists believe the vote on the survivor protection bill, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), could be even more politically significant in the long run.
Democrats say current law is already sufficient to prevent the abuses that activists fear, and they pointed to objections from medical groups, such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which said the bill represents “gross legislative interference into the practice of medicine.” But activists believe those opponents have assumed an extreme position that could become a liability in future campaigns.
“The votes this afternoon are evidence of just how wedded to the idea of abortion on-demand, at any time, for any reason, that the Democratic Party has become,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, noting only five of 188 Democrats voted in favor. “Where is the compassion and concern for ‘the little guy,’ the abortion survivor, whose heart is beating and alive?”
The bills were brought to the House floor amid in order to create leverage with President Obama and congressional Democrats given the nearing deadline to fund the government. But neither have indicated a shutdown would force them to blink.
The Senate took an August test vote on a Planned Parenthood defunding bill, which fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to advance controversial legislation. Senators are expected to take a procedural vote Tuesday on a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a related effort to demonstrate the political hurdles facing any bill restricting abortion rights.
On the House side, GOP leaders have sought to tamp down demands to link Planned Parenthood funding to the spending deadline. They have made both political and practical arguments: In a Thursday morning meeting at Republican National Committee headquarters, party leaders presented polling numbers showing Republicans would be blamed for a shutdown in key battleground districts. And they told members that due to the vagaries of federal appropriations and funding cycles, the kind of short-term funding bill that is likely to pass ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline would do little to affect Planned Parenthood.
“In the short term, you might feel better, but the money’s already out the door,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), an Appropriations Committee member and leadership ally. “Let’s do the hearings. Let’s find out what the case is. Let’s try to craft something that’s a little more nuanced and precise than just, ‘if you don’t do what we want, we’ll shut down the government.’ “