Abortion defunding effort resumes in Congress

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Pro-life advocates in Congress have not given up on extracting the federal government from the abortion business.

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Members of the Senate and House of Representatives already have introduced legislation in the new congressional session, which began Jan. 3, to end funding for abortions and abortion providers. Their efforts to gain passage, however, face what appear to be insurmountable odds in a House now controlled by Democrats, who support abortion rights nearly across the board.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., introduced Jan. 10 the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act (S. 109), which would create a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs. The bill -- introduced by Wicker in partnership with Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan. -- also would block federal money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law and guarantee full disclosure of abortion funding by health insurance plans that are part of the controversial arrangement.

On Jan. 9, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., introduced the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, which would establish a one-year moratorium on federal money for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates unless they stop performing elective abortions. The proposal also would increase funds for community healthcare centers that provide comprehensive care for women and their babies but do not perform abortions.

In the other chamber, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced companion legislation, the Protect Funding for Women's Health Care Act, Wednesday (Oct. 16).

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) listed both policy goals in its 2019 legislative agenda announced Jan. 16.

"The abortion industry is both predatory and profit-driven," ERLC President Russell Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. "Their ability to fund death with taxpayer funds must not stand. Americans ought not be compelled to fund the destruction of the most vulnerable among us under the false pretense of health care."

Previous attempts to pass such funding prohibitions have failed. For instance, the Republican-controlled House voted 238-183 for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act in January 2017. Only three Democrats voted for the bill, while no Republicans opposed it. The GOP-controlled Senate failed to vote on the proposal in the last Congress, though President Trump supported it.

Banning government funding of abortion has proven effective in saving the lives of unborn children since the Hyde Amendment was enacted in 1976. That provision, which bars Medicaid funding of abortion and became the general label for such bans on health programs, has saved the lives of more than two million unborn babies, the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute estimated on Hyde's 40th anniversary in 2016.

Congress, however, has had to pass the Hyde Amendment and similar bans in other federal health programs each year as part of spending measures. The measure is named after its sponsor, the late Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois.

In a written statement, Wicker said of his bill, "Millions of Americans oppose the use of federal dollars to support abortion.... [I]t is well-past time Congress passed a comprehensive solution to the patchwork of regulations prohibiting federal funding for abortion services."

Lankford said in written comments, "We must continue to take steps to move our nation and our culture closer to holding all human lives sacred regardless of a person's size or degree of dependency. This bill brings us closer to that goal."

Wicker and Lankford are both members of Southern Baptist churches.

Thirty-nine senators, all Republicans, joined Wicker in co-sponsoring his legislation.

Democrats in the House, meanwhile, pledged Tuesday (Jan. 15) to rescind the ban on abortion funding.

"We are going to end the Hyde Amendment," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., co-chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, according to The Hill news website. "We intend to fight aggressively to reverse the terrible decisions by the Trump administration, and frankly previous administrations, going back 40 years."

In a Jan. 15 release, the annual Marist Poll on attitudes about abortion showed a majority of all Americans oppose any taxpayer funding of abortion by 54 to 39 percent.

Planned Parenthood, the country's largest abortion provider, collected $543.7 million in government grants and reimbursements in the financial year that closed June 30, 2017. PPFA's clinics performed 321,384 abortions in the 2015-16 year, according to its latest report.

Hartzler said in a written statement, "Taxpayers should not have to pay for Planned Parenthood's abortion industry. Abortion is not healthcare, yet it is the foundation of Planned Parenthood's mission.

"We should be investing in women's healthcare, not abortion."

Twenty states have enacted restrictions limiting funds in some form for Planned Parenthood, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Courts have blocked such laws in at least nine of those states, NRLC reported.

Messengers to past Southern Baptist Convention meetings have adopted resolutions calling for government defunding of abortion and of Planned Parenthood.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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