December 5, 2014 — House Republican leaders are grappling with a group of antiabortion-rights GOP members that contends an omnibus appropriations measure does not go far enough in its abortion restrictions, National Journal reports.
While the group's protests are unlikely to keep the measure from progressing through Congress, the dispute could be indicative of abortion-related policy fights to come when Republicans take control of both chambers of Congress next month, according to National Journal.
The calls for stricter antiabortion-rights language come from the House Values Action Team, a group of lawmakers opposed to abortion-rights. They want the omnibus to include language that goes beyond existing provisions to separate federal funds from abortion services and allow health care entities to refuse participation in abortion care.
Reps. John Fleming (R-La.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), co-chairs of the House Values Action Team, have threatened to abstain from voting on the appropriations bill if the antiabortion-rights language is not strengthened. According to National Journal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has pressured lawmakers to change the language.
National Journal reports that the issue arose in response to developments in California, where the state is in a dispute with some institutions that do not want to include abortion coverage in their health plans. This summer, the California Department of Managed Health Care announced that abortion services are a "basic health care service" that must be covered in all health plans in the state.
Fleming said the Values Action Team has asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to make California change the policy, but she "refuses to do anything about it, so we want to put strong language [in the spending bill] that establishes that it's absolutely against statute, and also ... the law would give a private right of action."
Little Chance of Effect on Omnibus
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has said that she will not support a spending measure containing increased abortion restrictions, meaning House leaders are unlikely to include such language in the final spending package.
Still, Fleming said the efforts are signs of a push that could intensify once Republicans have the majority next year. He said, "We're not going to be giving leadership a pass anymore, at least beginning next year, because we're going to be able to get these to go through. And yes, the president can veto them, but at least we need to get it to his desk" (Newhauser, National Journal, 12/4).