Planned Parenthood Fight Could Slow Obamacare Repeal, Trigger Shutdown

  • Republicans say health care law must defund Planned Parenthood
  • Fight raises shutdown prospects as funding expires April 28

Here's How Republicans Are Working to Repeal Obamacare

Republicans in Congress have made cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood one of their top priorities, but the issue could stymie President Donald Trump’s Obamacare repeal plans and even trigger a government shutdown.

House Republicans insist that the emerging plan to end Obamacare must cut off an estimated $500 million in annual federal funding for Planned Parenthood over its provision of abortions, aiming to carry out two longtime GOP campaign promises at once. Democrats are equally determined to ensure that won’t happen, and a few Republicans may stand with them.

“Planned Parenthood defunding language is going to be in the Obamacare repeal,” says Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “It’s critically important that we do it.”

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a member of Democratic leadership, counters, “Let me be clear: for Democrats, defunding Planned Parenthood is a complete non-starter.”

The Planned Parenthood fight is making several Republicans uncomfortable as well, narrowing support for the emerging GOP plan to repeal Obamacare and endangering the razor-thin majority needed to pass the measure in the Senate. 

Shutdown Showdown

With the repeal effort increasingly likely to slip into April, the fight could also spill over into the spending battle to keep the government open after current funding expires on Apr. 28. With Republicans insisting that the next spending measure not fund Planned Parenthood, Democrats could block their bill and set up a shutdown showdown.

Further discord may come after Trump as early as Monday proposes his budget for the next fiscal year, which will include major defense spending increases and big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and other federal agencies, according to a person familiar with the plan.

For Republicans, ending funds for the reproductive health care group and repealing Obamacare are promises they’ve run on for years. The GOP forced a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013 in a failed bid to defund Obamacare. In 2011 and in 2015, Republicans nearly shut down the government over Planned Parenthood.

A wild card on this issue is Trump, who used to favor abortion rights before changing his stance. During the campaign, he praised Planned Parenthood -- saying it has done “very good work for millions of women” -- but also said it shouldn’t receive federal funding as long as it performs abortions. One of his first executive orders barred federal money going to groups that promote abortion around the world.

‘Imperils the Whole Concept’

With a Republican in the White House, anti-abortion lawmakers and activists expect party members to finally make good on their campaign words.

If an Obamacare repeal bill “does not have defunding of Planned Parenthood in it, I think the motivation for conservatives changes so dramatically that it imperils the whole concept,” said Representative Trent Franks of Arizona.

Obamacare repeal efforts are moving slowly, though, as Republicans seek to work out a replacement plan. Also as part of a plan to replace Obamacare, House Republican leaders intend to bar the use of the program’s tax breaks to buy insurance that covers elective abortions.

Several Republicans recognize that the party’s demands to link the Planned Parenthood issue to Obamacare could imperil the repeal.

‘Gigantic Political Trap’

“We are just walking into a gigantic political trap if we go down this path of sticking Planned Parenthood in the health insurance bill,” Representative John Faso of New York said in a private Republican meeting at a retreat in Philadelphia in late January, according to leaked audio. “If you want to do it somewhere else, I have no problem, but I think we are creating a political minefield for ourselves -- House and Senate.”

In the House, Republicans can afford to lose fewer than two dozen votes in their party if all Democrats stick together in opposition. In the Senate, the GOP can only spare two, and at least two have been skittish about defunding Planned Parenthood.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who voted against repealing Obamacare in the last Congress partly over a provision defunding the group, said last month she was “not happy” when House Speaker Paul Ryan said the repeal bill would cut off funds for the women’s reproductive health care provider.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska signaled unease in remarks to her state legislature Wednesday.

“I, for one, do not believe that Planned Parenthood has any place in our deliberations on the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay for abortions, but I will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides.”

‘Strong Knees’

Asked if there’s concern that attaching a defunding of Planned Parenthood would imperil the health care plans, Ryan spokesman Doug Andres noted that Obamacare repeal legislation with such a provision passed the last Congress before being vetoed by President Barack Obama.

“This is where you got to have strong knees, if it comes back from the Senate, and they are funding Planned Parenthood,” said Representative Dennis Ross of Florida, a senior deputy Republican whip.

Ross said Republicans would have to decide if “the greater good” would still be served by an Obamacare repeal bill that leaves Planned Parenthood funding intact.

Planned Parenthood’s services include abortion, but it has long been banned from using federal funds for the procedure. The money goes to other health-care purposes such as annual checkups and cervical cancer screening.

“Millions of people across the country, men and women, rely on Planned Parenthood each year for critical health care services -- and we are absolutely ready to stand with them and fight back against extreme, harmful Republican efforts to take that care away,” Murray said.

‘Incredibly Optimistic’

Anti-abortion groups are counting on the GOP to cut off funds.

“I’m incredibly optimistic that after decades of federal funding of Planned Parenthood, that the No. 1 abortion provider’s cash will disappear and go to organizations that provide full health care for women,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in an interview.

At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina, drew applause for saying Republicans must use their new-found power to “end taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.”

Abortion rights groups are already on high alert in the wake of President Trump’s nomination of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, the president’s memorandum blocking funds for international health groups that offer abortion counseling, and a House-passed resolution to roll back an Obama rule that says states can’t withhold federal money from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics that perform abortions.

Leslie McGorman, deputy policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice America, said her group would “pull out all of the stops” to block legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and would encourage Democrats and Republicans to do the same. “What tactic that requires remains to be seen,” she said.

Democratic leaders are spoiling for the fight, believing that a battle over reproductive rights will energize their already riled-up base.

“Republicans show no sign of letting up in their war on women. Democrats will fight these attempts to roll back health care for women with everything we’ve got,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement.

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