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Senate Fast Tracks 20-Week Ban; House Panel Advances Bill To Defund Planned Parenthood

Senate Fast Tracks 20-Week Ban; House Panel Advances Bill To Defund Planned Parenthood

September 17, 2015 — Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on Wednesday used a procedural move to fast-track a 20-week abortion ban bill (HR 36) that passed in the House earlier this year, The Hill's "Floor Action" reports (Carney, "Floor Action," The Hill, 9/16).

Background

Following the release of a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, some conservatives have called for Congress to defund the organization. Further, some 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.

The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress. 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. 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/11).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have indicated they oppose shutting down the government. As part of his effort to avoid a shutdown, McConnell said he will pursue a "two-pronged" strategy, wherin he aims to pass a short-term spending bill to have more time to negotiate a longer-term spending measure while separately pushing the standalone 20-week abortion ban measure (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/14).

20-Week Ban Details

The House passed the 20-week ban in May. House leaders originally planned to vote on a version of the bill on Jan. 22 -- the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision -- but changed course after some conservative lawmakers raised concerns about a requirement that a rape survivor would have to formally report the rape to police to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Under the version that passed, adult rape survivors would still be required to meet strict restrictions before obtaining abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Specifically, abortion care would only be permitted if the woman receives counseling or medical care at least 48 hours prior to the procedure.

Meanwhile, HR 36 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 a government agency that deals with child abuse. The bill would not provide exemptions in cases of incest for adults.

The measure also includes provisions that would require women seeking abortion later in pregnancy to sign an "informed consent" form and make physicians who violate the bill liable for civil action. Providers also could be subject to criminal penalties, including up to five years' imprisonment, for certain violations (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/14).

Latest Developments

The Senate is likely to vote on the 20-week ban sometime this month, according to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

According to "Floor Action," supporters of the 20-week ban could face challenges getting the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill in the Senate. A separate 20-week ban bill (S 1553) that was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) earlier this year currently has 45 co-sponsors ("Floor Action," The Hill, 9/16).

President Obama has said he would veto the House-passed measure should it gain congressional approval (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/14). He has said the same of Graham's bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/11).

House Committee Advances Defunding Bill and Bill Targeting Abortion Providers

In related news, the House Rules Committee on Wednesday voted 9-4 to approve a closed rule for a bill (HR 3134) that would defund Planned Parenthood for one year, CQ News reports.

HR 3134 now heads to the House floor for consideration (McCrimmon, CQ News, 9/16). According to Politico Pro, the House is expected to vote on the bill this week (Ehley, Politico Pro, 9/17).

Under the bill, Planned Parenthood would lose federal funding for one year unless it stops performing abortion care except in instances of rape or incest, or when the woman's life is in danger.

In addition, the Rules Committee moved a bill (HR 3504) that would create steep penalties for abortion providers, modifying the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 (PL 107-207)(CQ News, 9/16). According to the White House, the requirements in the measure "would likely have a chilling effect, reducing access" to abortion care (White House release, 9/14).

Meanwhile, the White House said it would veto both bills if approved, adding that the defunding measure would "limit access to health care for men, women, and families across the nation, and would disproportionately impact low-income individuals." The bill has considerable support in the House but would not be expected to pass in the Senate, according to CQ News (CQ News, 9/16).

In a statement, the White House said both HR 3134 and HR 3504 "would have the same consequences of limiting women's health care choices" (White House release, 9/14).

Report: More Than 600K Could Lose Access to Care If Planned Parnethood's Funding is Cut

If Planned Parenthood is defunded, up to 630,000 patients could have reduced access to health services, such as birth control, screening for sexually transmitted infections and other reproductive care, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released this week, Vox reports.

Planned Parenthood has about 2.6 million patients. According to the report, 130,000 to 630,000 patients "would face reduced access to care." Further, CBO writes, "The people most likely to experience reduced access to care would probably reside in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations."

According to Guttmacher Institute research, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net family planning clinic in 103 out of the 491 counties in the U.S. (Kliff, Vox, 9/16).