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Conservatives Fear Senate Health Bill Could Drop Anti-Abortion Provision

Jun 23, 2017

On its face, the draft Senate legislation for a new healthcare bill should make abortion opponents happy. It includes the two provisions they have long desired, stripping Planned Parenthood of its federal funding and restricting federal subsidies from health care plans that cover abortion.

But instead, many social conservative leaders are worried. The Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has yet to decide if either provision meets the Senate’s standard to be included in the budget reconciliation process.

Some social conservative leaders now fear that the Planned Parenthood defunding will be allowed, but the federal subsidy restrictions for plans covering abortion will be blocked from the bill. If the latter gets thrown out, some social conservatives who have long opposed President Obama’s signature health care law may end up opposing its repeal because it does not meet their anti-abortion standard.

Social conservatives leaders have been lobbying behind closed doors for weeks to convince Senate leadership and the Parliamentarian’s office that both provisions serve a primarily budgetary purpose. In order for the legislation to come to a vote, it must past the Senate’s Byrd Rule, which prohibits extraneous matter from being included in the budget reconciliation process. Republican leadership plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act through budget reconciliation because the process only requires 51 Senate votes instead of the usual 60 to overcome a filibuster.

“We remain very concerned that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a joint statement Friday morning. “We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition.”

More than five dozen anti-abortion groups, including Susan B. Anthony List, the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, signed a letter earlier this month demanding both provisions be included in the bill’s final passage to get their support. “If the Republican bill continues to fund or subsidize coverage that has abortion coverage, the pro-life community is going to have a serious problem,” says David Christensen, the Family Research Council's vice president of government affairs.

“The continued taxpayer funding of abortion through the tax credits is of great concern to our members and me,” Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, said in a statement. “However, we recognize this is only a discussion draft and look forward to our concerns being addressed.”

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to support the Senate bill in its current form. They plan to score it, possibly twice, both as a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and as a vote to defund Planned Parenthood. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Reed says of the possibility that an anti-abortion provision could be dropped.

These issues were a major reason for social conservative support of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. In September, he promised to defund Planned Parenthood and to make the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal subsidies for plans that cover abortion, permanent law. The 2016 Republican Party platform also calls for a “permanent ban on federal funding and subsidies for abortion and healthcare plans that include abortion coverage.”

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