The U.S. House of Representatives failed Feb. 2 to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would have largely defunded Planned Parenthood, but pro-life advocates remained hopeful about future success.
The House voted 241-186 for the override, falling 45 votes short of the two-thirds majority required. The failure was not a surprise, considering the margin by which the proposal originally passed. Supporters of the legislation actually lost ground from the House’s original passage vote, which was 240-181.
Only two days after the House vote in early January, the president vetoed the budget-related bill, which would have cut nearly 90 percent of federal money in the next year for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates. The legislation also would have essentially gutted the controversial 2010 health care law opposed by nearly all pro-life organizations.
Obama’s veto protected the interests of the country’s leading abortion provider, which performs more than 300,000 abortions a year, receives more than $500 million from the government annually and continues to be plagued by scandal. The latest in a growing list of black eyes for Planned Parenthood’s reputation came in last year’s revelation through undercover videos that it trades in baby body parts.
Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke said the surprise was both chambers “were able to pass this bill in the first place,” since the measure “was working against two entrenched, impassioned interests Congress is very divided about – health care and abortion.”
“Defunding Planned Parenthood and sending those taxpayer dollars to health providers that do not perform abortions is especially high on our list of things to do,” said Duke, vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “The initial passage of this bill tells us we are very close to achieving this goal.”
Pro-life leaders expressed their hope the election of a pro-life president this year could result in PPFA’s defunding.
“[W]e’ve proven that if the American people will give us a willing partner in the White House, we can indeed defund Planned Parenthood and dismantle Obamacare with the support of a simple majority in Congress,” said Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., a leading proponent of the measure.
Pro-life leader Marjorie Dannenfelser said only Obama “stands in the way,” meaning the defunding of Planned Parenthood “could be a reality in 2017.”
“His veto was a call to action to the pro-life grassroots. This year we must elect a president who respects life and will protect the conscience rights of taxpayers,” said Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a written statement. “With a pro-life president in the White House, there will be no need for an override vote.”
Planned Parenthood will use its resources to prevent such an election result. It has endorsed abortion-rights supporter Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Despite the failure, Black said the defunding effort “was a fight worth having.”
The House Republican majority “kept the story of Planned Parenthood’s brutalities alive, despite the mainstream media’s best efforts, and we’ve encouraged more Americans to watch the recent undercover films for themselves,” Black said in written comments.
Congressional passage of the legislation apparently marked the first time a bill to cut funds for PPFA had reached the president’s desk. The Senate had approved the proposal in a 52-47 vote in early December.
As in early January, a single Democrat – Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota – voted for the override, while only three Republicans – Reps. Bob Dold of Illinois and Richard Hanna and John Katko, both of New York – voted against it.
Backers of the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood used what is known as the reconciliation process in their latest effort to cut money for the organization. Reconciliation enables the Senate to pass a budget-related measure without the need for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster attempt.
The legislation vetoed by Obama would have redirected funds to approved community health centers instead of Planned Parenthood.
PPFA and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
The latest congressional effort to cut federal funds for PPFA came after secretly recorded videos released beginning in July showed various Planned Parenthood officials in different locations discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The videos included acknowledgements by Planned Parenthood employees of their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve body parts for sale and use.
The Center for Medical Progress, which produced the undercover videos, released one the day of the House override vote that it says demonstrates a PPFA affiliate in Houston used an accounting scheme to conceal the illegal sale of fetal tissue.
ERLC President Russell Moore and 37 other pro-life leaders wrote congressional leaders in October to encourage them to use the reconciliation process in an attempt to defund PPFA.
The reconciliation bill would have crippled the 2010 health care law, eliminating penalties for individuals who refuse to buy health insurance and employers who choose not to provide it. The legislation also would have repealed other taxes in the law.
Pro-life organizations opposed the health care law because of its support of subsidies for abortions. A federal regulation implementing the law also requires employers to provide coverage for contraceptives with potentially abortion-causing properties.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)