Planned Parenthood Defunding Effort Moves Beyond Government Shutdown

While few people in the pro-life movement view a shutdown as a realistic path to defunding after the House declined yesterday to pursue that avenue, other options remain on the table.

Pro-life advocates hold signs calling for defunding Planned Parenthood on Sept.16, in front of the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
Pro-life advocates hold signs calling for defunding Planned Parenthood on Sept.16, in front of the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — As the effort on Capitol Hill to withdraw federal funding from Planned Parenthood over its abortion business continues, pro-life advocates and lawmakers are pushing for other measures now that a government shutdown is off the table.

The House of Representatives voted 277-151 on Sept. 30 on a continuing resolution that would keep the government running and retain funding for Planned Parenthood. With just seven hours left before the end of the fiscal year, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, secured the necessary Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown, as 151 Republicans defected to vote No.

Many Republicans, including a coalition of nearly 40 House Republicans called the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), had vowed to oppose any continuing resolution that would retain government funding for Planned Parenthood. Since the Senate had failed in a 52-47 vote to pass a government-funding measure that eliminated money for Planned Parenthood — President Barack Obama promised to veto any legislation that stripped funds from the abortion giant — and passed a “clean” bill instead, the move would have led to a government shutdown. Both Speaker Boehner and the National Right to Life Committee opposed such a move.

But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the HFC chairman, said in a statement the vote was another example of “politics as usual.”

“I would have supported the funding bill had it simply redirected taxpayer dollars from Planned Parenthood to community health centers around the country, where women can receive actual, comprehensive health care,” he said. “I am disappointed that, despite the gruesome and incontrovertible video evidence of Planned Parenthood’s activities, the president got his way, and nothing changed.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, told the Register that House leaders plan to pass a “correction bill” to the resolution that would strip Planned Parenthood of its government funding. But he added there is little hope the Senate will take it up.

The short-term spending measure passed by Congress and signed by the president keeps the government running until Dec. 11.

Lipinski said the next opportunity is the budget reconciliation process, which does not risk the pro-life movement experiencing blowback from a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding.

“We have not won the battle of public opinion on defunding Planned Parenthood, and what we would do by saying you either defund Planned Parenthood or the government shuts down is we would be turning off people who might still be winnable on the Planned Parenthood issue,” he said. “In general, most people oppose shutting down the government.”

While Planned Parenthood’s favorability ratings have dropped, recent polls indicate that a majority of the public still backs funding for the abortion giant, which also provides a limited range of health services aimed at low-income women and men.

A Quinnipiac poll found that 69% of voters opposed shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood’s funding — including a majority of Republicans. And 52% opposed cutting off government funding to Planned Parenthood entirely, even though only 44% of respondents (including 50% of women and 43% of men) viewed the organization favorably.


Other Paths Forward

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., in a statement said she opposed a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood, but voted against the short-term funding measure to register her disapproval with House leaders who “could have fought harder and smarter” over the issue. She said the House should not have accepted the Senate’s continuing resolution “without even offering a fight.”

“An eleventh-hour ‘clean’ stopgap bill like this — especially in light of what we know about Planned Parenthood — should be a last resort, not a starting point,” she said.

“With this vote behind us, I am once again calling on the Senate to pass my standalone bill to freeze funding for Planned Parenthood so that we can put this measure on the president’s desk and show just where his priorities lie.”

Black’s Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 would place a year-long moratorium on all federal funding to Planned Parenthood while Congress investigates the organization over allegations that it has violated federal laws, including the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and the federal partial-birth abortion ban. The legislation would in the meantime redirect federal funding to more than 13,500 clinics nationwide that provide primary care to low-income and underserved populations, but not abortion services. The bill also increases federal funding to community health centers by $235 million.

The plan, from pro-life organizations and lawmakers behind the defunding bill, is to make it part of the budget reconciliation process, which bypasses the 60-vote filibuster and requires only a 51-vote simple majority.

“That would put the bill on the president’s desk,” said Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, noting the bipartisan majorities of pro-life lawmakers in both houses. However, the president is certain to veto the bill, and Congress does not have the votes to override him.

The Susan B. Anthony List has been making the case that Planned Parenthood is not needed, and if the organization closed tomorrow, “We’re looking at an increase of two women per week per site for preventative services” at community-based health clinics that do not provide abortions.

“If the money were rerouted, we’re looking at an increase of health care for preventative services,” Quigley said.


USCCB Perspective

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has openly supported the effort to defund Planned Parenthood but viewed shutting down the government as rebounding on poor and abortion-vulnerable populations that rely on government services.

“People are trying to be realistic and creative in saying, ‘Here are these different ideas for acting on these revelations that have come out about Planned Parenthood,’” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

Doerflinger pointed out that, in addition to the budget reconciliation process, there are other legislative possibilities that might have a stronger chance of making it out of Congress.

Another piece of legislation moving forward, H.R. 3495 sponsored by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., would make clear that states have the authority to deprive abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, of access to Medicaid funding. The measure passed the House 236-193 on Sept. 29 and now goes to the Senate.

Doerflinger added that one of the USCCB’s top legislative priorities is the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would strengthen federal conscience protections for those who do not provide abortions or contraception. The legislation has only been introduced in the House.

“Those are seriously in need of improvement,” he said, pointing out that the federal government has continued to lock out the USCCB and its agencies from federal grant applications over their refusal to provide services in violation of the faith. “Even as we’re fighting to defund Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood and its allies are working to defund us.”


More Options

Other pieces of legislation are still waiting for the Republican-controlled Senate to take them up.

Among them is a measure to strengthen the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which passed the House on Sept. 18.

Ovide Lamontagne, general counsel for Americans United for Life, pointed out that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would extend Hyde Amendment restrictions to all federal revenue streams, is still languishing in the Senate Finance Committee.

But he said his group is moving forward viable strategies that would be successful in defunding Planned Parenthood. For instance, Americans United for Life has crafted model legislation on the disposition of fetal remains that essentially prohibits scientists from using aborted babies for research.

“Why would we give the abortion industry, and those women who are unsure about their decision, an additional incentive to abort their children?” he said. “It’s not consistent with American values, and it’s not necessary under the law.”

Other legislative ideas could help defund abortion by addressing the factors that push women and girls, or those behind them, into Planned Parenthood’s abortion business, which accounts for 86% of their non-reimbursed revenue streams, according to Charles Camosy, a professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars.

Camosy, who also serves on the board of Democrats for Life of America, said extending the child-tax credit, enacting workplace protections for women who are pregnant, going through childbirth or needing to nurse and extending family medical leave could address a number of documented abortion push factors.

“Pro-lifers have to be willing to say, ‘I’m going to do what it takes to advance the cause of life — both women and babies — regardless of party,’” he said.


Reframing the Debate

As Congress continues to investigate Planned Parenthood over the allegations of wrongdoing contained in the Center for Medical Progress videos, the abortion giant is waging an aggressive public-relations war to shore up support. According to John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, the videos need to be more widely shared, because they show Planned Parenthood’s business is exactly what Pope Francis means when he speaks of a “throwaway culture.”

“We need to change hearts and minds and policies,” Carr said. But public opinion will only shift when more is done to get people to watch the videos and to push back on the charge that the videos are deceptively edited. As the debate continues, he said victims of Planned Parenthood’s abortion industry cannot be lost in the public discussion.

“The lesson here for us is that we have to talk about the child and mother together.”


Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register's Washington correspondent.