For years ERLC has included in our legislative and policy agenda the objective of defunding Planned Parenthood—a goal shared by the GOP. Now that the Republicans control the White House and have majorities in both houses of Congress, it seemed like taxpayers might finally be able to stop funding America’s largest abortion provider.
Pro-lifers were excited to find in the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill to modify President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, a defunding measure. Yet only after that measure fail to many pro-lifers (like me) read the fine print: the AHCA would have only defunded Planned Parenthood for one year.
Why is it so difficult to keep taxpayer money from flowing to one of America’s most evil corporations? The answer is the Senate and the courts.
The primary reason that denying taxpayer funds to an organization that performs abortions is politically untenable is because one of the two major political parties in America fully supports taxpayer funding of abortions. The use of taxpayer monies to pay for any abortion in all nine months of pregnancy for any woman who wants one is literally a plank in the Democratic Party platform:
The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.
Notice the claim to “oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right” includes the “right” to taxpayer-funded abortions. When an entire political party clarifies that they will oppose any efforts to reduce taxpayer funding that goes to pay for abortions, we shouldn’t be surprised when members of that political party oppose an effort to eliminate taxpayer funding of the group that performs the most abortions in America.
This has certainly been the pattern in the past. When this issue came up in Congress in August 2015 the vote was 241-187 to defund Planned Parenthood. Only three Republicans voted against the measure and only two Democrats voted for it. The Senate defeated the same measure 46 to 53. It needed 60 votes to pass. Only two Democrats in the Senate—Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)—voted to cut off the funding and one Republican—Mark Kirk (R-Il.)—voted to keep funding. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted no, but only because that allows him to bring the bill back for a vote at a later time.)
Even though the House has enough votes to pass defunding and President Trump would sign it into law, a full-scale defunding bill currently can’t get through the Senate because of the ability of Democrats in to filibuster any legislation that can’t reach a veto-proof 60 votes.
That is why House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing once again to defund through the budget reconciliation process, which would require only 51 votes in the Senate. "We think reconciliation is the tool, because that gets it in law. Reconciliation is the way to go," said Speaker Ryan in recent press conference. While this would be a positive step forward, it would only defund the abortion provider for one year.
Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to the federal level. Even efforts to defund Planned Parenthood at the state level have been rebuffed because of the courts.
In 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-In.) signed a law to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid funding from the state of Indiana. Soon after, lawmakers in Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas also attempted to exclude funding of the abortion provider from their states’ pools of public insurance providers.
In response, the federal courts have blocked all of those efforts, ruling that states cannot deny women access to providers who meet the federal requirements to qualify for Medicaid. Planned Parenthood is classified as a “qualified medical provider” and is thus eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.
In 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry found a workaround: refuse to accept federal funding for the state’s women’s health programs. By choosing to fully fund the program at the state level, Texas is technically allowed to exclude Planned Parenthood. But Planned Parenthood sued the state to prevent defunding and won an injunction. A U.S. District recently extended the injunction blocking Texas from removing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid contracts until the conclusion of the full trial of the abortion company’s lawsuit.
Last month, the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate voted on a similar measure. If the bill passes the state House and is signed into law it will likely be subject to a similar lawsuit as the one in Texas.
In the fact of our impending failure, pro-lifers shouldn’t grow discouraged. But we should be realistic. Currently, there isn’t much we can do to stop the flow of federal money to abortion providers. Until there are more pro-life members in the Senate, Planned Parenthood will continue to collect more than $60,000 an hour, every hour of every day of every year, from the American taxpayer.