Abortion foes march into divided Washington

Abortion foes march into divided Washington

The country's largest annual march against abortion comes to Washington on Friday, and this year there’s a new sense of urgency and frustration from a voting bloc that helped put President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE in the White House. 

With virtually no chance of moving abortion restrictions through a divided Congress, anti-abortion activists are reapplying pressure on the Trump administration to take executive action ahead of the 2020 elections.

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But any victories on that front would pale in comparison to achieving the goals conservatives have long tried to push through Congress, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions after 20 weeks.

Many Republicans and abortion foes are now looking back at what they see as a wasted opportunity from the past two years, when the GOP controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. 

“The sad part about that, for many of us who believe that defunding Planned Parenthood is appropriate, is that more should have been done when we had the majority in the House, the Senate and the White House,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week Democrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.). 

“I don’t see anything being done. I don’t see any legislative actions that will be considered substantial,” he added. “Most of the work on that would be done through the executive branch.” 

The administration is finalizing a rule that would make it harder for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to receive federal family planning dollars. 

And at the urging of anti-abortion groups, the administration is reviewing federally funded research projects that use fetal tissue.

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Separately, a recently finalized rule will allow religious and moral exceptions for employers who object to ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, but the rule change is on hold while a legal challenge plays out in court. 

House Democrats, who oppose those executive actions but don’t have the power to reverse them, plan to launch investigations. 

“We have been quite concerned about the Trump administration’s attempts to limit contraception access,” Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteDemocrats request info on Google-Ascension partnership Trump health chief declines to detail ObamaCare replacement plan A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal MORE (D-Colo.), the new chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight, told reporters Wednesday. “We’re going to be doing some investigations over the Trump administration’s rulemaking actions on those issues.”

Only four House Democrats identify as “pro-life”: Reps. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiDemocratic group to only endorse attorney general candidates who back abortion rights Democrats unveil impeachment procedures The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges MORE (Ill.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonHow centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment GOP lawmaker says House impeachment rules vote 'doesn't change anything for me' Majority of Americans see impeachment inquiry as fair: poll MORE (Minn.), Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Ben McAdams (Utah).

But while the new Democratic House majority was vowing to end a long-standing ban on the use of federal funds for abortions, known as the Hyde Amendment, the GOP-controlled Senate voted Thursday on a bill that would make the ban permanent.

Neither of those things is going to happen during the next two years with a divided Washington, as evidenced by the Senate measure falling short of the 60 votes needed to proceed, but they highlight how both sides will try to make the other look extreme on abortion ahead of the 2020 battle for control of Congress and the White House.

“I think that pro-life issues was a major winner for Senate candidates in the midterm elections,” said Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List. 

“It was true last year, and it’s true this year, that trying to force taxpayers to fund abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment, a longstanding, bipartisan, commonsense legislation, is an overreach,” Quigley said in an interview Thursday. “If they continue to do that, it will be helpful for the president’s reelection and the pro-life Senate and House candidates.” 

To get the support of the Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent anti-abortion group, then-candidate Trump had to promise to do four things if given the opportunity: nominate anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court; ban abortions after 20 weeks; defund Planned Parenthood; and make the Hyde Amendment permanent.

Two years into his presidency, he’s fulfilled just one of those promises by nominating anti-abortion Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP senator compares impeachment inquiry to Kavanaugh confirmation Christine Blasey Ford receives ACLU courage award Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy MORE. Their presence on the high court has given hope to abortion opponents that a successful legal challenge to aspects of Roe v. Wade may be on the horizon.

The other goals have been stymied by Congress.

A House-passed bill in 2017 that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. That same year an ObamaCare repeal bill passed by the House would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but the Senate was unable to pass its own version of the legislation.

“We have to overcome the cynicism caused by Republicans having control of both chambers and the White House, and what did they really accomplish in the pro-life world?” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for March for Life.

“Part of what we’ll try to do while Republicans are in the minority is make sure members are more committed. It’s easy to make a commitment right now, but we’ll make sure they stay true to that commitment if they ever get power again.”