For pro-life advocates and abortion activists alike, the election of President Donald Trump and a Republican majority in Congress last November served as both a shot in the arm and a shot across the bow of Planned Parenthood. But while the organization has suffered a few political losses, its Medicaid funding remains intact, and pro-life voters have experienced emotions ranging from glee to disappointment so far this year.
During the presidential campaign, Trump outlined four commitments “made to advance the rights of unborn children and their mothers”: Nominating pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, signing into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation nationwide, defunding Planned Parenthood, and making the Hyde Amendment permanent law to protect taxpayers from being forced to subsidize abortions.
In the same announcement, he also tapped Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser to head up his Pro-Life Coalition. As an organization “dedicated to electing candidates and pursuing policies that will reduce and ultimately end abortion,” the SBA List’s prominence in the campaign was seen by many pro-life voters as a reinforcement of Trump’s commitments. And Planned Parenthood took notice.
“Overall, from a national perspective, our biggest concern is that if Donald Trump becomes president he would take action to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country,” California Planned Parenthood CEO Kathy Kneer told Capitol Weekly last September.
Three days into his presidency, Trump sent a message to supporters and detractors alike by reinstating the Mexico City policy, which prohibits non-governmental organizations from performing or actively promoting abortion as a method of family planning in other nations. First enacted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and announced at a United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City, court rulings subsequently limited the rule to foreign organizations. It was rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2000, and then rescinded yet again by President Obama in 2008.
Then Trump made good on the first of his campaign pledges with the nomination—and subsequent confirmation—of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court in early April.
“This (confirmation) day makes that torturous primary and a grueling general election all worth it,” Dannenfelser said. “It’s just a day of great jubilation.”
The Gorsuch confirmation came on the heels of another win for pro-life forces: The passage of HJR 43, which overturned an Obama administration rule banning states from denying federal Title X family-planning funds to groups that commit abortions—namely Planned Parenthood. Trump signed the bill into law on April 13.
Planned Parenthood currently receives about $70 million a year in Title X family planning grants it says it uses to provide birth control and screenings for sexually transmitted infections. Together with Medicaid funding, the organization receives more than $500 million annually in government grants and reimbursements.
Pro-life advocates point out that despite the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on utilizing federal funds for abortions, tax dollars sent to abortion sellers for other services simply pad their bottom line—making it easier for them to promote and perform abortions with other funds.
Thirteen Republican-controlled states restricted the Title X family planning grants to Planned Parenthood before the Obama administration issued the rule last year.
“We are pleased Congress has passed HJR 43 to repeal the HHS rule prohibiting states from determining how to spend Title X funds,” said Life Legal Defense Foundation Director Alexandra Snyder. “States should be afforded discretion in allocating Title X funds, especially when it comes to organizations like Planned Parenthood that are primarily abortion providers. Federal law and policy favors the protection of human life, including the unborn.”
Terry Beatley, president and founder of the Hosea Initiative, a Virginia-based organization dedicated to “educating women about deception in the abortion industry,” told Citizen the Title X action is a step in the right direction.
“As a woman and a mother, I am so pleased that [Congress] has voted to allow states to exclude Planned Parenthood from providing Title X services. Planned Parenthood kills over 300,000 people every year and parades itself as women’s health care. Nothing is further from the truth! It doesn’t provide mammograms and it doesn’t provide prenatal care,” she said. “Planned Parenthood is in the business of promoting promiscuity, killing babies and selling the babies’ body parts. So let me be clear: The Senate has done the right thing by voting to shift power back to the states. Bravo!”
The Battle of Obamacare
However, many pro-life advocates were dismayed when Congress failed to pass the American Health Care Act of 2017 (HR 1628) this spring, part of the “repeal and replace” plan to scuttle the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare. The bill would have defunded Planned Parenthood for one year.
Its defeat came at the hands of members of the Freedom Caucus, a congressional caucus made up of conservative and libertarian Republican members that identify closely with the Tea Party movement. Reasons for opposition varied between individual members, but the consensus was that the AHCA did not go far enough to repeal the ACA and was not going to yield significant savings for Americans paying for health care premiums.
Although the bill only contained the one-year moratorium on Planned Parenthood funding, Trump, via Twitter, called members of the Freedom Caucus on the carpet for giving Planned Parenthood the reprieve.
“Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & O-Care!” he wrote.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to say Trump would push for future efforts to defund.
“I don’t want to get ahead of our legislative strategy,” he told reporters. “We’ll look at other opportunities, but this was definitely one way to make that happen.”
Snyder said her organization’s resolve will not waver.
“Life Legal is disappointed that the American Health Care Act was not vetted sufficiently to ensure its passage,” she said. “Abortion remains a deeply polarizing issue. The abortion cartel is digging in even more deeply … but our mission and goals have not changed. Life Legal continues to fight for the protection of vulnerable human life, especially the unborn, in the courtroom and in the public square.”
One thing both sides seem to agree on is that Trump’s first budget is likely to be a key battleground in his administration’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The president’s first move was to use advice from his 1987 book Art of the Deal—think big and use leverage.
In this case, leverage may manifest itself through a caveat in the promise he made on the campaign trail to defund the controversial organization “as long as they continue to perform abortions” by reallocating its funding “to community health centers that provide comprehensive health care for women.”
A businessman at heart, Trump might see that offer as the best deal either side might get; that’s why he offered to continue federal funding if Planned Parenthood gets out of the abortion business. Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards told The New York Times on March 31 that’s not an option.
The Susan B. Anthony List joined more than 70 national and state-level pro-life groups in sending a letter to pro-life members of Congress urging them to enact a new reconciliation bill that would redirect taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood to community health care centers, saying the passage of HJR 43 is proof Congress has the votes necessary to take immediate action.
“The grassroots we represent expect you to stop funding this abortion giant,” they wrote. “For years promises have been made, and the time has come to deliver. We urge you to pass a reconciliation bill that redirects Planned Parenthood funds to community health centers before the April recess. There are no excuses for inaction.”
Dannenfelser said the Title X action shows Congress has the ability to take on Planned Parenthood even more definitively, if members can find the political will to do so.
“Women would be better served by these comprehensive health care entities, which outnumber the abortion chain by more than 20 to one nationwide,” she said. “Planned Parenthood, which performs more than 320,000 abortions in a single year per their latest annual report, does not need or deserve taxpayer dollars.”
Meanwhile, Life Legal and its allies are digging in.
“Abortion is a multibillion-dollar global industry. Its profiteers will not go quietly into the night,” Snyder said. “They will not be defeated with a single piece of legislation. The closer we get to defunding Planned Parenthood, the more intense the battle will become. Still, we remain confident that the days of Planned Parenthood and its abortion allies are numbered.”
If Congress rallies the votes, and Planned Parenthood doesn’t take up Trump on his offer, they might find themselves on the receiving end of another of his business tactics—fighting back.
For More Information:
To learn more about the Susan B. Anthony List, visit https://www.sba-list.org. For more information about the Pro-Life Action League, go to https://prolifeaction.org. The Hosea Initiative’s website is http://www.hosea4you.org. For more information about Life Legal Defense Foundation, go to https://lifelegaldefensefoundation.org.
Originally published in the June 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.