House Republicans use spending bills to push for abortion restrictions

House Republicans use spending bills to push for abortion restrictions

House Republicans are pressing for abortion restrictions in government spending and must-pass policy bills, giving lawmakers a way to show their anti-abortion bonafides without putting the difficult issue to a standalone vote. 

The moves set up a clash with the Senate, as Democrats say they will block any poison pills, and even Republicans acknowledge the bills will need to be bipartisan.

The anti-abortion provisions are wide ranging. Some are written into the text of the underlying legislation, while some are amendments.

They touch on the military’s reimbursement for abortion-related travel, whether Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals should provide abortions, and changes to how the abortion drug mifepristone is dispensed. 

“It’s just to create division, culture, wars, etc. And they think that that’s going to distract the public from the unbelievable harm they’re doing in terms of the programmatic cuts from the services that people rely on,” Rep. Rosa Delauro (Conn.), top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told The Hill on Tuesday.

The fight over abortion access to military personnel has been playing out in the Senate for months, as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) single-handedly stalls military promotions in protest of the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing service members who need to travel out of state to obtain an abortion.

The policy was enacted last year in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which had for almost 50 years protected the federal right to an abortion. 

That issue has moved to the House, where it threatens to delay a vote on the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as conservatives are pushing an amendment that would rescind the policy. 

It’s unclear if the amendment will end up as part of the larger bill, but appropriations bills have already advanced in the House with anti-abortion provisions included.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee advanced the Food and Drug Administration spending bill, which included a provision rolling back a policy that allows pharmacists to dispense mifepristone — one of the drugs used in medication abortion — and for it to be sent to patients by mail. 

The full committee also advanced the annual Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill that banned VA medical centers from performing any abortions or gender-affirming care. 

The VA said last year that medical facilities would offer abortion access to veterans and eligible dependents “in cases that endanger the life or health of an individual,” even in states that ban abortion without exceptions. 

In a statement tied to the anniversary of the Supreme Court ending Roe, the GOP Appropriations Committee majority celebrated the “key pro-life provisions” included in the bills.

One year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, an increasing number of House Republicans are shying away from taking steps to restrict abortion at the national level as polls show majorities of Americans favor protecting the procedure. 

The House GOP majority has seemingly abandoned plans for any national abortion ban and faced difficulty in moving even bills that cover a much narrower scope, including a measure to permanently codify and expand the Hyde Amendment, a provision that prohibits certain federal funds from being used on abortion procedures. 

That bill has yet to come to the floor, with opposition from moderate House Republicans being a factor.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said that while she has not read the proposed anti-abortion NDAA amendments, she warned that Republicans shouldn’t be focusing on abortion bans, especially if the policies aren’t related to the underlying legislation.

“We shouldn’t be doing anything that’s not germane. This is an issue I’ve been very vocal on, Mace said. “We have voted on three or four or five different abortion bills or amendments so far this year, but what have we done to protect women?” 

But the effort to restrict abortions from within funding bills could allow Republicans to send a message to voters without subjecting vulnerable swing-district members to a vote. 

“They know it’s unpopular, their policy position, people believe in abortion rights, and reproductive rights, and so they’re trying to do things through a more hidden process,” Rep. Ro Khana (D-Calif.) said. 

Still, Republicans pushing for controversial anti-abortion policies is not new. 

In 2018, House Republicans demanded a rider on the annual health spending bill that would have cut federal funding from Planned Parenthood and eliminated a federal family planning program. 

But it didn’t advance in the Senate, a possibility that lawmakers on both sides acknowledge will likely happen this year as well.

“I don’t know anything that’s going on in the House, but 60 votes in the Senate, either to make room to restrict abortion or to enhance or to increase its availability?” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said. “I don’t know how something would pass the Senate.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, also isn’t anticipating any new major moves on abortion through the appropriations process. 

“That is in major part because our chair and vice chair, Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), met very early on this year,” she said. “The agreement was we’re going to try to do regular order, and that there would be no new poison pill amendments in our final bills – and that’s an agreement between the parties.”

“Remember, there’s poison pills on each side. And so, while I don’t think we’ll get rid of things that we have previously known as poison pills, [we] will not let any new ones happen,” she said. 

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