WASHINGTON (BP)--The U.S. Senate rejected April 14 the last effort to defund the country's leading abortion provider for what remains of the 2011 budget year.
On the same day the House of Representatives again approved such a proposal, senators voted 58-42 against a resolution to bar federal money for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates during the remainder of the fiscal year, which closes Sept. 30. Following the same pattern, the Senate defeated in a 53-47 roll call an effort to eliminate funds for last year's health-care reform law, which authorizes federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion.
Both chambers passed the overall budget agreement, which will go into effect without the funding bans as a result of the Senate votes. The agreement will cut about $38 billion from last year's spending level.
It was no surprise that the proposals to defund Planned Parenthood and the health-care law failed in a Senate controlled by Democrats and abortion-rights supporters. Five Republicans joined the 53-member Democratic caucus in turning back the Senate resolution to defund Planned Parenthood. The 53-47 vote against the proposal to rescind funds for the health-care law was along party lines.
The House voted 241-185 to eliminate money for Planned Parenthood, with 10 Democrats joining Republicans in the majority. Seven GOP members opposed the measure. The proposal to defund the health-care law was 240-185. Three Democrats voted with 237 Republicans for the resolution. No GOP members opposed it.
The votes for the overall budget legislation were 81-19 in the Senate and 260-167 in the House.
The approved budget includes a pro-life funding victory and some cuts to grants to abortion-rights advocates. It restores a ban on funds for elective abortions in the District of Columbia. It also cuts $15 million for the United Nations Population Fund from its appropriation of $55 million in 2010 and $73 million in international family planning funds from $648 million last year.
Pro-life leaders expressed disappointment in the failure to defund Planned Parenthood -- which reported more than 332,000 abortions in 2009 -- and the health-care law, which critics have dubbed "Obamacare."
"Sadly, the Senate rejection of the defunding of Planned Parenthood and of 'Obamacare' means that these two moral blights on the American governmental landscape survived for a little longer," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said, "Unfortunately, it is clear that the pro-abortion majority in the Senate continues to show they are more loyal to Planned Parenthood than they are to protecting taxpayers from paying for big-abortion."
Land said Americans who consider funding Planned Parenthood and "Obamacare" to be "morally reprehensible" should be encouraged that 37 Senate seats are up for election in 2012, only two years after sweeping the more pro-life GOP into the House majority.
"In our system of government, the House of Representatives is most sensitive to the mood of the people, since the entire House is elected every two years," he said. "The presidency is the second most responsive, since the president is elected every four years. And the Senate is purposely the most difficult to change with only a third of that body being elected every two years.
"The overwhelming nature of the House vote against the funding of Planned Parenthood and 'Obamacare' as a result of the 2010 election should encourage opponents of supporting these programs that the Senate and the White House will be more reflective of the House vote after the 2012 election," Land said.
The ERLC and others oppose the health-care law not only because it allows subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion but also because it: 1) mandates Americans purchase health insurance, 2) will produce greater government involvement in medical care and, 3) likely will increase both taxes and the federal deficit.
Land described the budget cut in the overall measure as "an important baby step in the right direction," despite how inconsequential it is when compared to the national debt, which is more than $14.4 trillion.
"This resolution will save about $315 billion of government money that will not be spent over the next 10 years," he said. "Given the astronomical size of our financial predicament, because the federal government under both Democratic and Republican leadership has been spending money that it doesn't have for a generation, these numbers are a truly tiny baby step in the right direction of reducing federal expenditures. However, as small as the numbers are, it's the largest reduction in federal spending in a generation and, at least, it's a step, however small, in the right direction rather than in the wrong direction.
"Senator John McCain has often said that to accuse our Congress of spending money like a drunken sailor on weekend leave is an insult to his inebriated shipmates because at least when they run out of money they quit spending," Land said. "Our Congress is currently borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. It is engaging in generational theft from our children and grandchildren, and it must stop."
Describing the resolution to defund her organization as an "extreme proposal," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richard said all the "political maneuvering accomplished was to show that the House leadership is willing to sacrifice women's health to advance a narrow ideological agenda."
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $363.2 million in government grants and contracts during the 2008-09 fiscal year, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Some of that total came from state and local governments. It recently issued new rules requiring at least one clinic per affiliate to perform abortions. Although federal funds do not go directly to abortions, pro-life advocates contend federal money frees up other contributions to Planned Parenthood for the promotion and performance of abortions.
The fight over funding for Planned Parenthood followed undercover investigations in recent years by the pro-life organization Live Action that have shown Planned Parenthood employees demonstrating a willingness to assist sex traffickers of minor girls, to cover up sexual abuse of underage females and to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies. Another clandestine effort showed clinic personnel providing erroneous information about fetal development.
From 1996 to 2009, a measure known as the Dornan Amendment barred federal and congressionally approved local funds for the District of Columbia from paying for elective abortions. Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, in December 2009 an omnibus spending bill with language that said federal funding of abortions in D.C. is prohibited but local money may be used for the procedures.
Pro-lifers, however, pointed out such language is meaningless in its effect, because federal and local funds are combined for the district. As a result, the D.C. government can specify as local the money used to underwrite abortions.
Also included in the budget agreement was a restoration of funds for vouchers that can be used by families in the District of Columbia at religious and other private schools.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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