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Explainer: COVID-19 relief package included abortion funding

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March 9, 2021

Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package, named the American Rescue Act, that provides a multidimensional relief and stimulus approach to the pandemic recovery. The legislative package includes direct stimulus payments to Americans, extends jobless benefits, provides both small business assistance and state and local funding for economic relief, as well as many other projects and expenditures. If passed by the House and signed by President Biden, this would be one of the largest spending bills in recent history.

How did it pass? 

The Senate used a process called “Budget Reconciliation” to pass this COVID relief package by a simple majority. Most Senate votes are subjected to “cloture”, requiring a 60-vote threshold for legislation to pass. The reconciliation process is a tool the Senate can use that only requires a simple majority, allowing for budget resolution policies affecting mainly permanent spending and revenue programs to move forward. 

When the Senate uses the budget reconciliation process, the minority party has the opportunity to bring up amendments for a vote. This process is known as a “vote-a-rama” because it takes hours to debate and vote on the amendments. On Friday, the Senate pulled an all-nighter for this vote-a-rama, and, after more than 24 hours of continuous debate and votes, the $1.9T American Rescue Plan passed the Senate on Saturday. The bill passed by a 50-49 party line vote. Sen. Dan Sulivan (R–Alaska) did not vote, but it would have been unlikely to change the outcome as Vice President Kamala Harris could have broken the tie for the Democrats.

Was there funding for abortion in this COVID relief bill?

Congress passed all of the pandemic relief legislation throughout 2020, including the $2 trillion CARES ACT, with Hyde amendment protection. This is not surprising, as the 116th Congress was in line with over four decades of bipartisan conscience protections in spending bills. Regrettably, this round of pandemic stimulus did not include these long-agreed upon pro-life budget protections. This is a major break from a foundational bipartisan agreement that has held since 1976—that Americans divergent views about abortion should be respected.

The Hyde Amendment and other pro-life budget riders protects American taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted. According to a recent Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll, a majority of Americans (58%) oppose using taxpayer money to fund abortions within the United States. Congress must continue to respect these morally grave concerns and honor the nearly half-century of bipartisan conscience protections in spending bills.

Senators Lankford (R–Okla.) and Daines (R–Mont.) filed pro-life amendments to include Hyde Amendment protections, but they were all subjected to the Byrd rule and needed 60 votes for passage. After the failed attempt to bring the Senate back to its 45 year running agreement on these protections, Sen. Lankford lamented that, “funding during a pandemic should save lives, not take lives. Abortion funding should not be in a COVID-19 pandemic bill. This shouldn’t be controversial.” Thankfully, Senators Casey (D–Pa.), Kaine (D–Va.) and Manchin (D–W.Va.) joined all of the Republican members in supporting the pro-life amendment. However, these amendments needed 60 votes and thus they were not adopted. 

Abortion is not healthcare, and this legislation should not reflect the destructive aims of the abortion lobby’s agenda. Ending the pandemic and economic hardship suffered by many ought to be a unifying effort. American taxpayer dollars should never fund abortion, and it is unconsconscionable to use a public health crisis as cover to advance radical abortion policy.

What’s next?

The American Rescue Plan will receive a House vote this week. We urge the House to take this opportunity to add Hyde Amendment protections and other pro-life conscience riders for the good of all Americans. The ERLC has sent Congressional leadership a letter urging them to include pro-life provisions in any spending bill in the 117th Congress, and will continue to oppose efforts to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik serves as a Policy Director in the Washington, D.C. office of the ERLC. Previously, she worked in the U.S. House of Representatives on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea is the author of Longing for Motherhood - Holding onto Hope … Read More