- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2017

With Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate approved a bill Thursday to let states strip federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood, marking the first successful strike against the country’s largest abortion network.

The bill, which already cleared the House and now heads to President Trump, rolls back an Obama-era rule that said states couldn’t deny family planning money to organizations just because they performed abortions.

While other clinics may be affected, both sides acknowledged the fight was about Planned Parenthood, which has been a target for Republicans in Washington and in state capitals across the country in recent years.

“The Obama administration wanted to do everything it could to secure federal funding for Planned Parenthood before they turned over the keys to the Trump administration. With our vote today, we prevented that from happening,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican and a lead sponsor of the bill.

Democrats vowed political retribution, saying women are already anxious over the GOP’s agenda and will see this as an assault on their health care choices. Planned Parenthood itself blamed a “group of male politicians” for the strike.

Thursday’s vote was dramatic by Capitol Hill standards. With two Republicans defecting, GOP leaders had to rouse Sen. Johnny Isakson, who’s been absent from the Senate for weeks as he recovered from back surgery, to show up and force a 50-50 tie.

Mr. Pence, a longtime pro-life leader, then cast the tie-breaking vote.

It’s the first pro-life bill to be passed by the new Congress, and Mr. Trump’s signature will make it the first pro-life legislation to become law in more than a decade.

But the roots of the bill date back several years, after undercover videos surfaced purporting to show Planned Parenthood clinic officials negotiating the sale price of body parts from aborted fetuses.

While Democrats and President Obama protected the abortion network’s money at the federal level, GOP-led states rushed to strip funding themselves. More than a dozen states have acted to withhold money from Planned Parenthood.

In his waning days in office, Mr. Obama tried to stop them, writing a rule that banned states from discriminating against Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers when deciding how to spend federal family planning money, known as Title X funding, which covers everything from birth control and pregnancy testing to breast cancer screening.

Thursday’s vote overturned that rule.

The bill doesn’t reduce the amount of federal money spent on family planning, nor does it explicitly prohibit Planned Parenthood from getting cash. But it does give states the power once again to exclude abortion providers and send the federal money to other community-based clinics that don’t offer abortions.

A 2015 Congressional Budget Office analysis estimated Planned Parenthood received $60 million annually from Title X. The bulk of the abortion giant’s funding comes from Medicaid reimbursements.

Democrats cast the legislation as an attack on women.

“The Republican Congress is utterly consumed with contempt for women’s ability to access affordable contraception and lifesaving preventative care,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Democrats quickly sent out fundraising letters hoping to capitalize on the vote, telling women and pro-choice voters that Thursday’s bill was the first in a series of expected attacks.

“Our fight is far from over,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said on Twitter.

Planned Parenthood has become the biggest lightning rod in Washington politics, with both parties treating the $500 million the organization gets in taxpayer money as a proxy for abortion rights.

Battles over federal funding for the organization nearly led to government shutdown showdowns in 2011 and 2015.

Just last week Republicans tried to nix Planned Parenthood funding as part of their Obamacare repeal bill, but that legislation failed to gain enough support to pass.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has vowed to try again, saying he’ll try to use this year’s budget process to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

This week’s floor battle split the GOP, with two Republicans, Sens. Susan M. Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joining all 48 members of the Democratic Caucus in backing Planned Parenthood.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization, said two of those Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — could suffer for their votes. Both Democrats are up for re-election in conservative-trending states and claim pro-life beliefs.

“Susan B. Anthony List will work tirelessly in the months ahead to make sure their constituents know of their betrayal of the unborn and their mothers,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the SBA List.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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