WASHINGTON — In the November midterm elections, Republicans took control of Congress for the first time since 2006, thanks in part to pro-life activists who flooded five critical states with millions of dollars and activists to help the GOP claim victory.
On Dec. 11, the GOP-led House had its first opportunity since the midterms to show pro-life leaders and activists it heard them on issues like protecting the unborn, protecting conscience rights and defunding Planned Parenthood, when it released a bipartisan omnibus spending bill. The outcome was less than a resounding pro-life success, an outcome that has left pro-life advocates hoping that the new Congress can deliver better results next year.
The omnibus bill included both victories and losses for pro-lifers. While some praised the bill for its inclusion of language demanding the Obama administration protect conscience rights in D.C. and California, as well as for promoting abortion transparency in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), others criticized it for not doing more in both areas.
The bill also funded population control efforts, Title X funding, and the U.N. Population Fund budget, though those spending levels were not increased from Fiscal Year 2014. And in perhaps the most significant loss to pro-life advocates, the bill allowed federal funding under the Hyde Amendment — which allows federal funding for abortions in so-called "non-elective" circumstances — to apply to Peace Corps volunteers for the first time since 1979.
Criticism was also directed at the omnibus bill’s pro-life measures, the success of which, Alliance Defending Freedom senior legal counsel Casey Mattox told LifeSiteNews, “ultimately depends on the [Obama] administration.”
ANDA and the Weldon Amendment
At issue is the federal Weldon Amendment, which guarantees conscience protection for those under the authority of any federal, state, or local government that receives federal funding, and illegal abortion funding under the Affordable Care Act.
Illegal abortion funding under the Affordable Care Act has long been suspected by pro-life activists, who had their concerns verified this summer when the Government Accountability Office found more than 1,000 ACA-approved plans illegally funded abortions.
As well, several California Catholic churches have sued the Brown administration, saying the California governor’s new policy requiring insurance coverage of all abortions violates Weldon.
Pro-life Republicans in Congress had prioritized codifying the Weldon Amendment by including the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) in the omnibus spending bill, but instead it left enforcement up to the administration.
The ANDA legislation, which is strongly supported by the U.S. bishops, was first passed by the House in 2002 but was not considered by the Senate. Pro-lifers sought to include it in House appropriations bills both in 2013 and in 2014.
Primed for 2015
The Dec. 11 vote has left pro-lifers primed for 2015, especially since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised a vote on the 20-week abortion ban prioritized by many pro-life leaders. And a senior GOP aide told LifeSiteNews last week that “we look forward to advancing the right to life in the new Congress, when Harry Reid no longer controls the Senate and Nancy Pelosi has even less support in the House.”
However, it remains to be seen whether the pressure of pro-life members and their allies will bring about change in U.S. policy. A Statement of Administrative Policy from President Barack Obama in 2013 said that the 20-week ban “is an assault on a woman’s right to choose,” and was recommended for veto by his senior advisers.
The ban passed the House, but that, along with the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, was blocked by the Senate.
According to Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement released shortly after the GOP took the Senate in November, Republican leaders should make passage of the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” a top priority in 2015. The Act, which would ban most abortions at 20 weeks’ gestation and would prevent approximately 18,000 abortions, has been a top priority of SBA. SBA’s political action committee provided a significant portion of the pro-life funding and coordination in the 2014 elections.
Eliminating approximately $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion company, is also a top priority of pro-life advocates and members of Congress.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., told the Register that “No organization in America has caused the death of more innocent and helpless children than Planned Parenthood.”
“Performing abortions constitute at least 37% of Planned Parenthood’s revenue. Ninety-eight percent of Planned Parenthood’s services to pregnant women are abortion services, according to a recent Planned Parenthood report,” said the congressman.
“They support abortion on demand throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy for any reason or no reason at taxpayer expense, and they are one of a very few groups that promote abortion as a method of birth control. It is a disgrace that taxpayers are forced to give one dime to such an organization.”
A representative from the office of Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., likewise told the Register that “of course” Kelly supports eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“Rep. Kelly is always supportive of efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not go towards pro-abortion groups or causes,” said Kelly’s representative.
Pressuring the GOP Leadership
However, whether the change in the controlling party will make substantive changes in the 114th Congress is still an open question according to some pro-life activists.
Criticism has been directed at the GOP for its concentration on promoting the 20-week ban, given that a veto by Obama is considered a certainty. And statements and e-mails by Republican National Committee Chairman Rience Preibus, McConnell, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, immediately after the midterm elections did not mention abortion.
“We’re not going to be giving leadership a pass anymore, at least beginning next year, because we’re going to be able to get” conscience protections passed, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., told National Journal. “And, yes, the president can veto them, but at least we need to get it to his desk,” the leading pro-life Congressman said.
“Although it has been a critical leg of the GOP’s three-legged stool, the pro-life movement has not received a ton of love from the Republican-controlled House,” Dan Holler, communications director of Heritage Action for America, told the Register.
Respect for the pro-life movement “should change when Republicans take control of the Senate next year,” Holler said. “If the party is committed to its stated values, items like defunding Planned Parenthood and advancing a bill to limit abortions after five months should see action.”
For his part, Franks told the Register that he was confident Republicans would make pro-life legislation a top priority.
Said Franks, “During this next session of Congress, I fully anticipate that the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and other pro-life legislation will pass both chambers in the Republican-controlled Congress.”
Register correspondent Dustin Siggins writes from Washington.