Abortion Provisions Said to be Dropped From Senate Health Bill

Lobbyists say two abortion-related measures ran afoul of Senate rules

Athanasius Murphy offers a blessing to protesters during the speaking program of the annual March for Life, January 27, 2017. Attendees march from the monument to Capitol Hill to oppose abortion. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two abortion-related provisions in the House-passed bill that rewrites the U.S. health insurance system have been dropped from the Senate’s counterpart version, according to several lobbyists.

A number of GOP offices would not confirm whether those provisions are still in the legislation and several aides cautioned that the working draft is still undergoing multiple revisions and that those measures could still be included.

If those provisions were not incorporated, however, Republicans could face intense backlash from conservative groups who have demanded their inclusion. Several aides said it could also affect the support of conservative senators, calling into question whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has enough votes to pass the bill.

The two measures would effectively prohibit federal funding to Planned Parenthood for one year and prevent government health subsidies from being used on insurance plans that offer abortion coverage.

When asked if those two sections would be included in the Senate’s bill, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said only, “That’s our objective.”

“We’re doing our best, working with the parliamentarian,” he told Roll Call.

At the heart of the issue are the rules governing the fast-track budget procedure known as reconciliation that Republicans are using to move the bill with only a simple majority support.

That process requires any provision in the bill to have a budgetary impact. The Senate parliamentarian acts essentially as a gate-keeper and issues decisions on whether certain provisions comply with the rules.

Republicans are trying to craft it in a way that would qualify under the reconciliation process. But Democrats have long insisted both provisions run afoul of Senate rules.

The GOP was able to include in a 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by then President Barack Obama the language that would prohibit federal funding from going to abortion providers for one year largely on the grounds that it could affect other businesses besides Planned Parenthood.

Democrats argue that since that vote, the GOP has made it clear the language was intended to ban federal funding for that specific organization. A senior Democratic aide said they will make the same argument to the parliamentarian should that language be included in the pending discussion draft.

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