April 11, 2011 — The debate over abortion rights remained the last and most contentious of the issues tying up negotiations over the fiscal year 2011 budget, showing the "enduring influence" of social conservatives within the Republican party, the New York Times reports. While the main abortion-related provisions House Republicans included were stripped out in return for deeper cuts in federal spending, the intense effort of GOP lawmakers to cut spending for family planning programs indicates that the issue will remain in the forefront, according to the Times.
Republicans have tried to use the budget process to cut funding to family planning programs, including Planned Parenthood; to ban the District of Columbia from using local tax dollars to help fund abortion services; and to eliminate family planning subsidies to international organizations that provide abortion services (Steinhauer, New York Times, 4/8).
According to the Los Angeles Times, abortion has remained a "bedrock" issue for both parties (Oliphant, Los Angeles Times, 4/9). Democratic lawmakers say the "tide turned in their favor" during the budget debate when the focus shifted from government spending to eliminating funding for women's health programs, Politico reports. Republicans in the end backed down from defunding Planned Parenthood, but succeeded in reinstating a provision that prohibits D.C. from using local revenue to pay for abortion-related services.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said that "it's clear that the fight for women's health will continue and we will continue to work on behalf of millions of American women who count on this critical care." Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance said, "We're not finished with this. The fiscal year 2012 budget is just around the corner. We are going to continue to work to defund Planned Parenthood."
Brendan Buck, spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the speaker wants the House to "work its will" on social policy issues, including Planned Parenthood funding, in the upcoming 2012 budget debate. Buck also said on Saturday that Boehner was "focused on getting as many of the cuts and riders as possible, not putting one above any others" (Budoff Brown, Politico, 4/9). According to the National Journal, most GOP leaders, including Boehner, remained relatively silent on the Planned Parenthood rider, suggesting a "shrugging acceptance" of the fate of compromise (Garrett, National Journal, 4/8).
Policy experts also are speculating about whether Boehner and Republican leaders will be seen as "caving" on issues deemed most important by social conservatives, the Washington Post reports. For example, many tea party members and constituents from the religious right do not want to see the GOP back down from the fight to restrict abortion access (Leahy, Washington Post, 4/9).