Five Ways House Democrats Are Using the Budget to Fight Anti-Choice Policy

A budget amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) would strike Hyde-like language banning the use of DOJ funds for abortion.

[Photo: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez smiles during an interview.]
Ocasio-Cortez spoke about introducing the amendment during a Sunday appearance on ABC’s This Week. “I’m excited to be introducing a repeal of the Hyde Amendment via amendment—we’ll see where it goes—for incarcerated women,” she said. “The maternal and reproductive healthcare of incarcerated women should be guaranteed as it is with all women in the United States.” Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Some Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are using funding bills to oppose the Trump administration’s anti-choice agenda.

Though the Republican-majority U.S. Senate and the White House will likely block many, if not all, of the pro-choice budget provisions, the efforts showcase some of the party’s priorities and may ignite debate as congressional leaders seek to hash out a spending deal.

Here are five ways Democrats have sought to use the budget to fight back against attacks on reproductive health, rights, and justice.

1. Seeking to Block Trump’s Domestic ‘Gag Rule’ Restricting Federal Family Planning Funding

When House Democrats drafted their 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) funding bill (HR 2740) in April, they included language to block the Trump administration’s rule restricting Title X federal family planning funding, dubbed the domestic “gag rule” by reproductive rights advocates. The restriction is held up in court, but if implemented, it would ban health providers receiving Title X funding from making abortion referrals and force abortion providers to physically and financially separate abortion services from family planning services to receive the funding.

Republicans attempted to strike the pro-choice language on Title X from the funding bill through an amendment proposed by Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL). But the amendment failed to garner enough votes in the House, where pro-choice Democrats hold a majority. Three Democrats voted with Roby to preserve the Trump administration’s anti-choice policy: Reps. Dan Lipinski (IL), Henry Cuellar (TX), and Collin Peterson (MN).

Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, lauded the attempt to block Trump’s domestic gag rule in a statement after Roby’s amendment failed last week. “I applaud Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairwoman Nita Lowey, and Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro for listening to their constituents and leading the charge to fight off this latest attack on reproductive health care and rights,” Wen said. “I call on the House to pass this bill, and I look forward to leaders in the Senate standing with people across the country and joining the House in protecting access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other reproductive health care.”

“We must stand together to send a clear message to the Trump-Pence administration: Health care must be a fundamental right for all—not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it,” Wen said.

The LHHS spending bill also includes a substantial increase in Title X funding.

2. Attempting to Undercut a Trump Administration Restriction on Fetal Tissue Research

House Democrats approved an amendment last week to HR 2740, the LHHS bill, to stop part of the Trump administration’s new policy prohibiting government scientists from doing fetal tissue research.

The budget amendment, sponsored by Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Mark Pocan (D-WI), prohibits the funding of an “ethics advisory board” to examine research projects that plan to use human fetal tissue. The proposed ethics advisory board—which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wants to use to screen fetal tissue research that seeks federal funding—was part of the restrictions on fetal tissue research announced by the agency on June 5, a policy President Trump reportedly called for himself.

Nearly 70 medical groups, universities, advocacy groups, and research organizations voiced support for the amendment in a letter to its sponsors prior to its adoption, writing that the Trump administration’s new policy “will delay the development of new treatments for a wide range of serious diseases” and “prevent the use of an essential biomedical research tool that has led to many advances in human health.”

“Donated fetal tissue is used in research for a range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries,” as Rewire.News has reported. “It’s considered especially crucial in studies on the Zika virus, which attacks fetal tissue during pregnancy, leading to severe neurological deformities in newborns.”

The amendment was approved on Thursday in a 225-193 vote along party lines. Again, only three Democrats—this time Lipinski, Peterson, and Rep. Ben McAdams (UT)—voted against the measure.

3. Trying to Halt the Trump Administration’s Health-Care Discrimination Rule

Democrats in May voted to include a rider in the LHHS funding bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) blocking the Trump administration’s recently introduced “conscience” rule. That rule, as Rewire.News’ Jessica Mason Pieklo explained, “permits providers to refuse to provide treatment, referrals, or assistance with procedures if these activities would violate their stated religious or moral convictions. The rule goes beyond refusing to provide health care; it also includes refusal for any health-related services, including research activities, health studies, or the provision of health-related insurance coverage.”

During a committee meeting, Lee explained that the rule would disproportionately affect women of color. “Women of color—who are more likely to live in areas with hospitals that claim objections to comprehensive reproductive health care—including access to abortion care or birth control—will face even more barriers to care under this rule,” she said, according to a press release.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) tried to strike the language through an amendment that failed last week by a vote of 192-230. Reps. Cuellar, Lipinski, and McAdams joined Republicans in voting for Cole’s amendment.

4. Fighting to End Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced an amendment to HR 3055, the spending bill to fund the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), that would strike Hyde Amendment-like language banning the use of DOJ funds for abortion.

Ocasio-Cortez spoke about introducing the amendment during a Sunday appearance on ABC’s This Week. “I’m excited to be introducing a repeal of the Hyde Amendment via amendment—we’ll see where it goes—for incarcerated women,” she said. “The maternal and reproductive health care of incarcerated women should be guaranteed as it is with all women in the United States.”

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All, a campaign organizing to lift restrictions on abortion coverage, lauded Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment. “We are thrilled with the momentum that is building to overturn the cruel and unjust Hyde Amendment and will keep working on multiple fronts until each of us can make decisions about abortion free of coercion or shame,” Lopez said in a statement last week. “We are especially grateful that women of color in Congress are so committed to efforts to lift the Hyde Amendment.”

The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday afternoon to consider budget amendments for the spending bill.

Ocasio-Cortez’s budget amendment follows an effort from Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to strike the Hyde Amendment from the LHHS funding bill. That amendment was not advanced by the House Rules Committee last week.

Though there is unprecedented support for repealing the anti-choice budget rider among Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said Democrats included it in the LHHS bill because the Trump administration “would reject an appeal of the Hyde Amendment.”

5. Taking a Stand Against Trump’s Global ‘Gag Rule’

The 2020 State and Foreign Operations funding bill would “permanently repeal the anti-woman Global Gag Rule and prevent prior funds from implementing this destructive policy,” according to House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita M. Lowey (D-NY).

In Trump’s first days in office, he reinstated and expanded the “global gag rule,” also known as the “Mexico City Policy.” The anti-choice restriction prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. family planning aid from providing abortion care or information about it; Trump’s expanded version applies the policy to organizations receiving any U.S. foreign aid.

Lowey has long championed the end of the global gag rule and has sought to use other funding measures and stand-alone legislation to make it a reality.

The State and Foreign Operations funding bill proposes an increase in funding for international family planning and reproductive health, according to PAI, a global nonprofit focused on reproductive health access.