Updated at 4:05 p.m. Eastern time to include a quotation from Dan Holler of Heritage Action for America.
A bill to fund the federal government until September 30, 2015, has mixed results for pro-life and pro-family advocates. It called for the Obama administration to make it easier for consumers to know if their insurance plan covers abortion, as well as increasing funding for abstinence education. But the bill also compelled taxpayers to pay for abortions for Peace Corps workers in some circumstances, stripped out a measure defending Catholic churches from being compelled to fund abortion, and did not cut any funding of international population control measures.
Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA)
On Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House released its so-called “Cromnibus” bill that spends nearly $1.01 trillion on federal discretionary programs. Pro-life Congressmen had pushed for the legislation to enhance abortion transparency in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and protect conscience rights across the nation, especially in California and D.C.
According to Casey Mattox, Senior Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) was a top priority for pro-life leaders, but House leaders did not include it in the bill on Tuesday.
“We need ANDA,” said Mattox, whose group is defending churches and insurance providers who oppose a new California law that requires all insurers, including churches, to cover abortions. “What we got was an Explanatory Statement in the budget that basically instructs HHS to enforce the Weldon Amendment and respond to the complaints.”
ANDA would have codified the Weldon Amendment, which has to be approved each year. The Weldon Amendment does not allow the federal funding of federal, state, or local governments that receive federal funding to discriminate against health care groups on the basis of providing, paying for, covering, or referring abortions. Social conservatives say the California law violates this law.
The House's language is “slightly better than just, 'Hey, please process these complaints.' It's fair to say that this is the House saying to California, 'please enforce the Weldon Amendment,'” Mattox said.
“However, without ANDA, you're still at the mercy of hoping that Obama will uphold federal law on this,” said Mattox, who was critical of the Obama administration's past unwillingness to uphold federal law on abortion.
Funding Abortions for Peace Corps Volunteers
The greatest loss for pro-lifers came as the Republican-controlled House approved a motion to pay for abortions for Peace Corps volunteers in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Matt Dennis, a spokesperson for the Democratic staff of the House Appropriations Committee told LifeSiteNews in June, “If a woman serving in the Peace Corps is a victim of rape while serving abroad, becomes pregnant, and elects to terminate the pregnancy, she pays for that out of pocket. That is different from women serving in the military, Foreign Service officers, Medicaid recipients, immigrant detainees, female prisoners, etc.”
“Peace Corps volunteers are the only women serving the federal government not covered by the Hyde Amendment,” Dennis continued. “[The] amendment offers those same Hyde protections to women in the Peace Corps.”
The funding was carried out in the name of the Hyde Amendment, a 1979 provision intended to bar funding for abortion, with exceptions.
While the House Appropriations Committee described the GOP-approved amendment in June as one that “adds language to the bill related to health care coverage for Peace Corps volunteers,” former Human Life International Communications Director Adam Cassandra affirmed that “purposefully killing another innocent human being is not health care.”
“The spin on this from members of Congress and radical lobbyist organizations is that this is a health care issue,” but abortion “is not health care,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Further assaulting a woman who is a victim of rape with the violent act of abortion is in no way a humane or compassionate response to her situation, and taking the life of that child can never be justified.”
ObamaCare Abortion Transparency
Mattox also explained to LifeSiteNews the significance of the House's Explanatory Statement directing the Obama administration “to provide additional clarification” about which health plans cover abortion and “to ensure greater consistency and full transparency of coverage options included in health insurance plans prior to plan purchase in the marketplace enrollment process.” The motion asks for officials to send Congress a timeline of their proposed actions within 30 days.
Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office found that over 1,000 ACA-approved health insurance plans illegally covered abortions. According to Mattox, “this is the perfect Gruber situation,” in reference to abortion supporter and ACA architect Jon Gruber who recently admitted that deceiving the American people on the ACA was critical to its passage.
“ObamaCare forbids insurance companies from disclosing whether you are going to pay for abortions,” explained Mattox. “They are supposed to tell you at the point of enrollment — which means, after you choose your plan. In reality, they send you a long summary of benefits, and the way it's described is confusing, to say the least. And nothing tells you that a consequence of abortion being on your plan means that they are taking a specific amount from your premium and putting it into a special fund for abortions.”
“Currently, it's easier to find IRS e-mails than to find out if your insurance plan can fund abortions. It's virtually impossible to know,” he said. “In Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Jersey, insurance plans require that a surcharge from every person in an ObamaCare plan goes into an abortion slush fund.”
“I can't call [the House's abortion transparency components] a full win,” Mattox said. “Rep. [Christopher] Smith's 'Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act' would be a full win. This still ultimately depends on the administration.”
Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins told LifeSiteNews that her group was “very happy that the House made it a priority to expand abortion transparency.”
However, Hawkins also said that the House's efforts on ANDA were “better than the status quo, but far short of what the pro-life House should have done.”
“No organization or individual should be forced to pay for abortions,” said Hawkins, who also said that SFLA “hopes that the Weldon Amendment will be enforced in California. Catholic churches and religious groups hold that abortion is a grave moral evil and they should not be forced to pay for abortions.”
“The law needs to be enforced or it is useless,” she said.
More Funding for Abstinence Education
A major win was garnered for abstinence education by freeing up to $12 million in federal grants. Valerie Huber, president of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), said that “House leadership had the foresight to correct a problem in the funding parameters surrounding the Title V Abstinence Education Program.” Previously, the $12 million “from this grant was unavailable to states and communities that wanted to provide sexual risk avoidance (SRA) abstinence education to students.”
“Currently, the demand for SRA abstinence education exceeds the funding for it, but this provision within the House appropriations bill will certainly help,” Huber said.
Funding for International Population Control
Partial losses for pro-life efforts included $35 million in federal funding for the UNFPA, at least $75 million for population control funds, and $286 million for Title X family planning efforts. All of these approvals were consistent with last year's funding.
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Republican Leaders Happy with the Bill, Promise More to Come
The House leadership says the Cromnibus bill advanced the pro-life, pro-family agenda. A senior GOP aide told LifeSiteNews that “since taking control of the House, Republicans have worked hard to protect pro-life policies from the Obama agenda, and we look forward to advancing the right to life in the new Congress, when Harry Reid no longer controls the Senate and Nancy Pelosi has even less support in the House.”
In a blog post describing the Cromnibus bill, the Speaker's office noted that “the bill maintains all existing pro-life policy and funding provisions, including the Hyde Amendment and a ban on public funding of abortions in the District of Columbia. Notably, the bill includes new measures requiring ObamaCare plans to tell customers if they provide abortion services and directing HHS to quickly respond to complaints regarding conscience protection violations.”
Seasoned conservatives were less sanguine about the bill. “Republicans in Congress appear to be taken pro-life lawmakers, constituents, and voters for granted,” said Dan Holler, communications director of Heritage Action for America. “A line in a press release is totally insufficient when it comes to protecting the unborn. And no lawmaker should cast a vote based on the assumption the Obama administration will now follow the law.”
Experts: The GOP Will Fight for Life Next Year, or Totally Rebrand Itself
Criticism was also directed at the bipartisan negotiations because of secrecy surrounding the committee meetings. However, blogger Ed Morrissey told LifeSiteNews that “the secretive nature of CR negotiations is nothing new. It's almost always done this way, because bypassing normal order creates artificial deadlines and a need to change directions on short notice.”
“When Congress returns to normal order, these issues will play out more publicly, although it will fail to capture much interest when it does. It's one major reason that even a short-term compromise that restores normal order is in the long-term public interest,” said Morrissey.
Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics said it appeared to him that the GOP gave special attention to pro-life issues because “the GOP leadership is probably aware that it drew more votes from white evangelicals in 2014 than Democrats did from all minority groups combined. It’s a crucial voting bloc for the GOP to energize, unless it wants to completely rebrand itself, which would be difficult.”