The COVID-19 Stimulus Bill Leaves Abortion Providers Out in the Cold (Updated)

The $2 trillion stimulus bill includes a discriminatory Hyde Amendment provision.

[Photo: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pauses during a press conference.]
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) and other Senate Republicans made sure to block Planned Parenthood from receiving loans available in the stimulus. Alex Wong / Getty Images

UPDATE, March 27, 2020, 1:44 p.m.: The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the stimulus bill. The legislation now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

Planned Parenthood and other health-care organizations that provide abortion care could be denied loans from the $350 billion available for small businesses in the stimulus bill passed Wednesday by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

The $2 trillion stimulus bill, expected to pass the Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, includes a provision giving the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) “broad discretion to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates and other non-profits serving people with low incomes and deny them benefits under the new small business loan program,” according to Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The bill also has “a new unnecessary Hyde Amendment provision, a harmful policy that prevents people with low incomes from accessing safe and legal abortion coverage, to a state stabilization fund for providing coronavirus relief,” according to Planned Parenthood. The anti-abortion provisions come two weeks after the Trump administration held up coronavirus funding because it didn’t include anti-abortion language.

“It has become shamefully clear that not even a global pandemic will stop the Trump administration or Republican Congressional leaders from attacking access to reproductive care,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Our leaders should be working to support the nation’s full network of safety-net health care providers during these uncertain times. Instead, the Senate bill targets Planned Parenthood and expands the harmful and discriminatory Hyde amendment, putting up even more barriers to care for women, people with low incomes, and communities of color.”

Under the Senate bill, the SBA will have the power to determine which companies and organizations receive loans. The SBA is headed by Jovita Carranza, who briefly served as U.S. treasurer under Trump and was the SBA deputy administrator in the George W. Bush administration. Carranza also served in the administration of former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who in 2017 signed a landmark pro-choice bill.

An earlier version of the bill blocked nonprofits that receive Medicaid funding from being eligible, such as health centers, home and community-based disability services providers, rape crisis centers, and more, but that provision has been removed, the Washington Post reported.

“According to a senior Republican aide, drafters in both parties agreed that the original language, while targeted toward Planned Parenthood, could also implicate numerous other nonprofits whose patients receive Medicaid. That led to an agreement to remove the language,” the Post reported.

Kelsey Ryland, director of federal strategies for the reproductive justice group All* Above All, called Senate lawmakers “ruthless” for inserting anti-abortion language into the stimulus bill.

“They are exploiting an emergency relief bill to further expand the Hyde Amendment in funds designed to help state, local, and tribal governments respond to this pandemic,” Ryland said in a statement. “Our communities across the country are doing everything we can to keep ourselves and our families safe, and our elected officials should be doing the same—not blocking health care for communities that already face significant barriers. Once again we’re seeing how far Trump and anti-abortion politicians will go to push their political agenda.”

Meanwhile, some governors are using their COVID-19 emergency orders to stop access to legal abortion—a policy challenged in court by Planned Parenthood and others on Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood pulled out of the Title X family planning program after the Trump administration instituted its domestic “gag rule” preventing Title X recipients from talking to patients about abortion care and forcing clinics to physically separate abortion services from the rest of their services.