Anti-abortion groups, pursuing a list of priorities, hope to further capitalize on the Republican control of both chambers and the presidency in 2018.
Groups that oppose abortion scored a series of wins last year, including the appointment of several conservatives to top Department of Health and Human Services positions, the House passage of a late-term abortion ban bill and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
This year, leading conservative groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List and the Family Research Council are eager to secure further legislative and executive branch victories targeting abortion.
“It’s an election year, so getting substantial stuff done from Congress is usually a stretch,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs with March for Life, which opposes abortion. “However, it is a good chance to bring up bills to highlight the differences between pro-lifers and those who are not.”
Watch: In Their Own Words — March for Life Attendees Take On Washington
The challenge in clearing anti-abortion legislation lies in the slim Republican majority in the Senate. A measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks with some exceptions could easily pass the House. But with only 51 Republican senators, well short of the 60 necessary to stop a filibuster, enacting anti-abortion laws is an uphill climb.
Nonetheless, the groups are pushing for a Senate vote on the 20-week ban later this month, around the 45th anniversary on Jan. 22 of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
“Our No. 1 congressional priority in 2018 is to get a Senate vote on the 20-week bill. That is imperative,” said Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel with Americans United for Life.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, noted there was a previous vote, “but we really need a fresh [vote] right before the election.”
This month, groups are also prodding lawmakers to insert anti-abortion language into any bills aimed at stabilizing the marketplaces created by the 2010 health care law. Some conservatives worry that the bipartisan stabilization efforts by Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington would allow the use of funds for abortion-covering plans, although some policy experts say an existing executive order already accomplishes the groups’ goal. The groups are pushing to add Hyde amendment restrictions, which bar the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the woman.
“For pro-lifers, that’s a no-brainer to not start subsidizing insurance plans with abortion coverage,” said David Christensen, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council.
The groups already helped delay a vote on the Alexander-Murray plan and other stabilization provisions late last year over abortion concerns.
“We’ve said, and pro-life Democrats have said and it just simply truly is, that unless you have a statutory fix you’re not going to get abortion out of health care. So that’s what the [Hyde] language in the Alexander-Murray bill would do,” Dannenfelser said.
Defunding Planned Parenthood also remains a priority for abortion critics.
“American’s largest abortion provider shouldn’t be funded on the public dime,” Aden said.
“Congress should defund Planned Parenthood on any new fiscal year ’19 reconciliation bill,” Christensen said.
In September 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump signed a letter pledging four commitments to the anti-abortion cause, among them signing the 20-week ban into law.
Since then, Trump held up his end of the bargain by reinstating the “Mexico City policy,” which bans federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals or that advocate for the provision of abortion. He also signed legislation allowing states to block Planned Parenthood’s Title X family planning funding.
Abortion opponents see room for the administration to do more.
“We would like to see come to pass what has been discussed among pro-life groups and the administration, which is an executive order from HHS affirming that states have the authority under Medicaid to direct public funding for family planning away from elective abortion providers,” Aden said.
March for Life’s McClusky also wants more executive action.
“There are Title X regulations that are dating back to the George H.W. Bush era that we’d like to see a return to and a lot of Obamacare regulations out there that still need to be addressed. And there’s ways to ease the burden Obamacare brought on taxpayers and pro-lifers through administrative action,” McClusky said.
Similarly, Christensen of the Family Research Council sees problems with the 2010 health care law that the administration could address.
“We think that obviously Obamacare is a problem, and there are ways that the health plans that are currently covering abortion could carry a separate abortion fee,” he said.
Specifically, the Family Research Council takes issue with how certain states, like California, offer in the marketplace only plans that cover abortion. The group wants consumers to buy supplemental coverage for abortion services so people who oppose abortion are not forced to subsidize it.
Campaigning for conservatives
Conservatives see this year’s midterms as an opportunity for Republicans to win additional seats and push legislation to the president’s desk.
The Susan B. Anthony List is on the ground in a handful of battleground states ahead of the elections, promoting candidates who oppose abortion. The group knocked on 300,000 doors in 2017 in Indiana, Ohio, Florida and Missouri ahead of the 2018 midterms.
“Our preparation is going door-to-door and talking to swing voters and/or the base on this particular issue about what their sitting senator has done to represent them on the abortion issue,” Dannenfelser said.
Groups are also preparing for an additional Supreme Court vacancy in case a sitting justice retires. Several anti-abortion groups are watching the lower courts as well, given that state legislation on abortion is often contested there.
Correction 12:24 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the year the Susan B. Anthony List campaigned in battleground states.