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McConnell To Push 20-Week Abortion Ban To Divert Budget Debate

McConnell To Push 20-Week Abortion Ban To Divert Budget Debate

September 11, 2015 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is arranging a vote on a 20-week abortion ban (S 1553) as a way to quell conservative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood before negotiations over must-pass government spending legislation, CNN reports (Raju/Barrett, CNN, 9/10).

Background

Following a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, some conservative lawmakers have said they will not support any government spending measure that includes funding for the organization. The government will shut down after Sept. 30 if lawmakers do not pass a continuing resolution to keep it funded through mid-December. Meanwhile, several standalone defunding measures have also been introduced, including a bill (HR 3134) proposed by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), a bill (HB 3443) from Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), and a measure (S 1881) from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations and only receives reimbursement for costs associated with such donations, which is legal. Meanwhile, supporters of Planned Parenthood said the videos are part of a decades-long campaign against the organization.

In August, Planned Parenthood submitted a report to Congress that found the videos were heavily manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization.

On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told fellow conservatives that shutting down the government as part of an effort to defund Planned Parenthood could undermine conservative lawmakers (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/10). According to CNN, he and McConnell are initiating "a series of steps" to avoid a shutdown.

Conservative Lawmakers' Antiabortion-Rights Strategy

According to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell during a meeting with conservative lawmakers on Thursday indicated he "will be filing cloture" on several antiabortion-rights measures, including the 20-week abortion ban, "at the end of next week."

The push is part of McConnell's effort to allow conservative lawmakers to vote on antiabortion-rights measures without risking a government shutdown. Meanwhile, other efforts pushed by McConnell and Boehner include highlighting several congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood and possibly shifting the defunding debate to a different process, called budget reconciliation, which would also sidestep a possible government shutdown (CNN, 9/10).

Details on 20-Week Abortion Ban

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in June proposed a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Sullivan, The Hill, 9/10). The measure, similar to a companion bill (HR 36) that already passed the House, would require adult rape survivors to meet strict restrictions before obtaining abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Specifically, abortion care only would be permitted only if the woman receives counseling or medical care at least 48 hours before the procedure. Meanwhile, the bill maintains reporting requirements for rape or incest survivors who are minors, allowing them to obtain abortion care after 20 weeks of pregnancy only if the incident has been reported to a law enforcement agency or social services. The bill would not provide exemptions in cases of incest for adults.

The legislation also includes provisions that would require women seeking abortion later in pregnancy to sign an "informed consent" form and make physicians who violate the legislation liable for civil action. Criminal penalties, including up to five years' imprisonment, are also permitted for certain violations (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16).

According to Politico, it is unlikely that the 20-week ban will be passed or signed into law because it faces opposition from a number of other lawmakers (Everett, Politico, 9/10). Further, President Obama has said he will veto the bill should it gain congressional approval (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16).

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called it "wasted time" to consider the antiabortion-rights measures, adding, "We have stuff we need to do" (The Hill, 9/10).

Conservative Caucus Will Oppose Planned Parenthood Funding

In related news, the House Freedom Caucus on Thursday said members will not support either a short-term or long-term government spending measure that includes funding for Planned Parenthood, The Hill reports.

The conservative group includes 40 members, which means that the group's opposition could present issues for conservative leaders seeking to meet the Oct. 1 deadline for passing a spending bill, according to "Overnight Healthcare."

Meanwhile, the Republican Study Committee, the other conservative caucus in the House, is not taking a stance on the issue, according to a spokesperson (Ferris/Sullivan, The Hill, 9/10).