Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a bill that would have written into law a permanent ban on taxpayer money being used to fund abortions.
The bill, timed to coincide with Friday’s annual pro-life “March for Life” on the National Mall, failed to win a majority, much less the 60 votes needed to clear the Democrat-led filibuster.
Republicans said they had hoped the taxpayer issue would be a point of common ground in the otherwise contentious politics of abortion.
“Even people who don’t see it as I do understand that we are not to ask the taxpayers to pay for this procedure,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican. “We continue to make a case every year.”
Opponents said the bill went beyond current restrictions and could have expanded the taxpayer funding ban to include Obamacare subsidies for people buying insurance on the health exchanges. They said the expanded language could have made it difficult for some people to obtain Obamacare plans, or conversely, it could lead plans to drop abortion coverage.
“By restricting consumers’ ability to purchase comprehensive health plans that cover abortion, the bill would essentially eliminate abortion coverage across the entire insurance market,” said Adrienne Kimmell, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
While the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a national right to abortion, a congressional compromise reached several years later restricted taxpayer funding for the procedure, generally outlawing money going to elective abortions.
The compromise, named after its author, former Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, is annually added to the spending bills, limiting funds going to the Department of Health and Human Services, including for Medicaid.
This week’s bill would have written that ban into regular law, covering abortions at any federally authorized or operated facility. It also would have applied to Affordable Care Act subsidies.
“I am a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, but this bill goes significantly beyond it by impacting private insurance policies too, depriving people of the ability to make their own decisions,” Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, told The Washington Times.
Forty-five Republicans and two Democrats — Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — voted to overcome the filibuster, while 46 lawmakers, including Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, backed the filibuster.
Abortion rights advocates have long argued that the Hyde Amendment unfairly burdens low-income women who cannot afford an abortion without medical coverage.
Democrats in Washington have been moving toward that position in recent years, including adding a plank to their platform at the 2016 presidential nominating convention explicitly calling for repealing the Hyde Amendment.
“We will continue to oppose — and seek to overturn — federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” the party platform now reads.
Yet another abortion battle looms amid the government shutdown.
The Senate version of one of the spending bills still to be passed would overturn the so-called Mexico City Policy, which prohibits federal money from being sent to international organizations that fund or promote abortions in their work.
President Trump has threatened a veto, partly because of that language.
Chuck Donovan, president of Charlotte Lozier Institute and former legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the Senate GOP’s commitment to hold the vote was important — even though it failed.
“What it signifies is that the Congress is paying attention to the fact that each year there’s several hundred thousand Americans on their doorstep,” Mr. Donovan said. “The right to life issue is not going away politically, socially or culturally.”