Pro-life advocates decried a COVID-19 relief bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that fails to include safeguards against abortion funding that were included in previous measures to address the pandemic.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 219-212 for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, HR. 1319, early Feb. 27. The vote fell along party lines apart from two Democrats who opposed the measure.
The legislative package advances to the Senate, where the Democrats hold an advantage, despite a 50-50 party breakdown, by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote as presiding officer. Only a majority will be required in the Senate because Democrats adopted in early February an infrequently used parliamentary maneuver known as “budget reconciliation” to avoid the 60 votes normally needed to prevent a filibuster and make possible the passage of the pandemic stimulus bill.
The measure promoted by President Joe Biden follows a series of COVID-19 relief measures enacted beginning last March in response to the virus’ outbreak in the United States. With a Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump in the White House, those pieces of 2020 legislation included protections against federal funding of abortion.
The new bill approved by the House, however, does not include Hyde Amendment-type safeguards, which means an estimated $414 billion or more in federal funds could be applied to elective abortions or health insurance that covers elective abortions, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). The House Rules Committee denied a vote on a Republican amendment that would have included a ban on abortion funding in the proposal.
“All Americans want to see this pandemic and resulting economic hardship come to an end,” said Chelsea Sobolik, a policy director for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The debate over this latest COVID-19 relief and stimulus legislation should reflect that unifying priority, not the corrosive aims of the abortion lobby’s agenda.
“And as is the case with all government spending, the bill must include Hyde Amendment protections and other pro-life conscience riders,” she said in written comments. “American taxpayer dollars should never fund abortion, something that would be especially egregious during a health crisis.”
Jennifer Popik, the NRLC’s director of federal legislation, called the proposal “a Democrat wish-list containing numerous provisions aimed at propping up the abortion industry.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the “divisive move flies in the face of the ‘unity’ this administration promised to promote.”
Public opinion polls have consistently found a majority of Americans disagree with government funding of abortion. A January survey by Marist Poll for The Knights of Columbus showed 58% of American adults “oppose” or “strongly oppose” taxpayer funding of abortion. The poll showed 31% of Democrats and 34% of those who identified themselves as pro-choice were opposed.
The SBA List reported the House-approved legislation includes:
- Billions of dollars for community health centers without prohibiting money for abortions.
- $750 million for international health activities without protections against abortion funding.
- A $50 million increase for the Title X family planning program, which could go to abortion providers.
- A change in the rules to enable the affiliates of Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider, to qualify for small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
- Federal subsidies for coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) without an accompanying ban on funding abortions. COBRA enables employees who lose health insurance coverage to continue to receive such benefits for a limited time.
In previous COVID relief laws, the affiliates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) failed to qualify for loans through the PPP program, which is designed to help employee retention by small businesses, including churches and nonprofit organizations. At least 37 PPFA affiliates, however, applied for and received more than $80 million in early rounds of PPP loans despite being ineligible under program requirements.
The PPFA’s latest annual report, which was released Feb. 20, showed it performed a record number of abortions during the 2019-20 statistical year. Its centers reported nearly 355,000 abortions, an increase of about 9,200 from the previous year. It also received $618.1 million in government reimbursements and grants.
The Hyde Amendment, which was enacted in 1976, prohibits Medicaid funding of abortion except in the cases of pregnancy by rape or incest and when the mother’s life is endangered. The amendment became the general label for such bans in federal health programs. The measure has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million unborn children, according to an estimate last year by Michael New, associate scholar of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.
The House-passed measure includes a rebate of as much as $1,400 per person and increases in the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. The Senate parliamentarian, however, has decided the minimum wage provision cannot be included because the legislation is being considered under budget-reconciliation rules, according to multiple reports.
The bill also includes, according to the Journal of Accountancy:
- $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments.
- About $130 billion for elementary and secondary schools.
- More than $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and assistance in the vaccination effort.
- $25 billion for restaurants, bars and similar businesses.
The only Democrats to join Republicans in voting against the bill were Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)