It’s fitting that this issue of our magazine is about abortion. It seems like that’s all 2015 has been about, too. It’s depressing to realize that even though there’s a general sense that Congress doesn’t actually do anything, there was a new attack or piece of bad legislation (or thwarting of good legislation) related to abortion or family planning every single month of 2015 so far. Don’t believe me? Just keep reading.
January: Only days after being sworn in, House leadership, seeking to make a symbolic statement in response to the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, brought H.R. 7, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” up for a vote. Current law already prohibits federal funding for nearly all abortions, but H.R. 7 is intended to further limit access by imposing tax penalties on individuals who want to use their personal insurance or Health Savings Accounts to pay for terminations. The bill passed 242-179.
H.R. 7 wasn’t actually the bill they originally wanted to pass. The plan had been to hold a highly publicized vote on a 20-week abortion ban. However, a number of female Republican legislators objected to the draconian requirements the bill would have imposed on rape victims. They objected not to the substance of the bill, but to the possibility that those requirements might damage the standing of the Republican party.
February: On February 4th, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) jointly reintroduced the “Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act” (S. 358/H.R. 742). The bill would guarantee women serving in the Armed Forces and their dependents the same insurance coverage of birth control as their civilian counterparts. The bill was referred to the relevant subcommittees but has not been allowed to move forward.
March: The previously bipartisan “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015” (S. 178/H.R. 296) suddenly became contentious when Democrats in the Senate discovered an anti-abortion provision hidden in the bill. The language would have extended the Hyde amendment, which bars the use of taxpayer funds for most abortion care, to funds set aside to help victims of trafficking. After more than a month of negotiations, the sides compromised by splitting the money into two funds, neither of which will be used for abortions. Several senators recognized the bill’s limitations, yet decided it was worth supporting anyway. The final version of the bill became law in May.
April: On April 30th, the House voted 228-192 to express its disapproval of a new law passed by the District of Columbia. The “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act,” passed by the D.C. City Council in December 2014, forbids employers from discriminating against their employees based on “use or intended use of contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of a pregnancy.” House Republicans said they believed the bill to be an unconstitutional violation of the religious rights of employers.
May: On May 13th, the House finally got around to voting on the 20-week abortion ban they had previously considered in January. After tweaking some language about the requirements for rape victims, the bill passed 242-184. It imposes mandatory waiting periods, even on rape survivors, and contains no exceptions for severe fetal malformations or to protect women’s health.
June: The House Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2016 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill on June 11th. It slashed funding for international family planning by $150 million, barred any U.S. contribution to UNFPA, and reinstated the Global Gag Rule.
July: On July 14th, an anti-choice group released the first of several heavily edited, deeply dishonest videos shot by an “undercover” operative in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood. The group alleges that these recordings prove that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling body parts from aborted fetuses. Although the videos show no such thing, Republican presidential candidates immediately leapt to prove their bona fides by condemning the organization, and anti-choice members of Congress began introducing competing pieces of legislation to end Planned Parenthood’s federal funding (which doesn’t cover abortion services anyway).
August: After sorting through all the bills introduced to defund Planned Parenthood, the Senate settled on a measure sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). On August 3rd, just before leaving for their summer recess, the Senate voted on her bill. After many dramatic speeches, the bill failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary for cloture in the Senate (53-46). In a procedural move to allow him to reintroduce the bill later, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) switched his vote from “Yes” to “No.”
September: The right-wing furor over funding for Planned Parenthood was still going strong, leading to a busy month on the Hill. On September 9th, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing with the neutral and unbiased <sarcasm> title “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” No one from Planned Parenthood was invited to speak. Later that month, on the 29th, although Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, was the sole witness at yet another House hearing, she still didn’t get much of a chance to talk. Instead, she was repeatedly interrupted by hostile committee members. Additionally, on September 18th the House voted 241-187 to strip Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, although they knew the bill could not pass in the Senate.
With the fiscal year ending on September 30th and several ultra-conservative members threatening to shut down the government over the issue, the Senate held two votes designed to placate these members. On September 22nd, the Senate attempted to pass the 20-week abortion ban previously approved by the House. The bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold and was rejected. Finally, on September 24th, they attempted to pass a measure to fund the government while excluding Planned Parenthood funding. That measure failed, 47-52.
October: On October 23rd, the House voted on yet another bill targeting federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The largely symbolic measure also attempted to dismantle key portions of the Affordable Care Act. After passing in the House, 240-189, the measure is not expected to reach the Senate floor.
The same day as the vote, House leadership also announced the names of the eight Republican appointees to a new House group tasked with “investigating” abortion practices and procedures in the United States. Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) stated that “[t]his is not about Planned Parenthood. This is about abortion service providers and medical practices and tissue procurement organizations and the relationships between them, so it is broader. It’s going to focus on the industry at large.” She also insisted that the goals of the panel, which she calls “The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” are not political.
This trend is sure to continue through November and December and into 2016, but our print deadline is too soon to include those months. Be sure to check our website for the latest news!