With Democrats projected to win Tuesday’s Senate races in Georgia, the political landscape for pro-lifers is now clear—they will be defending on multiple fronts against an emboldened abortion lobby.
With Democrats holding 50 Senate seats plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, they will have the slimmest of majorities in the Senate. While 60 votes are normally needed to pass legislation with the filibuster intact, a simple Senate majority can approve judicial nominees and pass certain budget bills.
As Democrats already hold the House and White House, it is at this Senate bottleneck where pro-lifers still have the best hope of fending off pro-abortion policies.
They will need Democrats to work with, and one new power broker—the moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—will be their best option. Representing a conservative state, Manchin will be a “swing” vote on controversial pieces of legislation and will face immense pressure from both Democratic and Republican leadership to vote with his caucus or break with them.
Yet Manchin is either a pro-life stalwart or an unreliable vote—depending on whom you talk to.
“He doesn’t give in to pressure,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, of Manchin. “The pro-life community needs to stand with him.”
However, other pro-life advocates are hesitant about Manchin’s pro-life credentials.
He has supported pro-life policies such as a 20-week abortion ban, a mandate of care for babies surviving abortions, and a ban on taxpayer funding of elective abortions. He has also flip-flopped on public funding of Planned Parenthood, and opposed a 2018 pro-life constitutional amendment in West Virginia—which voters enacted into law.
Manchin “hasn’t always been consistent,” Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications at the Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA.
He will “do whatever he can” to not be the “controversial” deciding vote in the Senate, warned Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action.
“Anybody on our side who is expecting Joe Manchin to be the 51st vote in our favor doesn’t know Joe Manchin,” McClusky said. “He will be the 52nd vote, but he’s very rarely the 51st vote.”
One top priority of the abortion lobby is increasing taxpayer funding of abortion, and Manchin could very soon find himself at the center of this fight.
The Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of elective abortions in Medicaid, has become a target of House Democrats and even President-elect Biden in recent years. They have attacked the policy as discriminatory against low-income women who are more likely to use Medicaid.
It is no insignificant policy, as one pro-life group has estimated that it’s resulted in more than 2.4 million fewer abortions since it was enacted in 1976.
Manchin could very well stymie his own party and uphold the Hyde Amendment, as he told National Review recently that he was “strongly opposed” to repealing the policy.
However, while an outright repeal of the Hyde Amendment would trigger backlash by pro-life groups and could ultimately hurt Democrats’ chances of keeping the House in 2022, that doesn’t mean that public funding of abortion could not be increased through a number of other procedural strategies—without an outright repeal of Hyde.
The next spending bill to include pro-life provisions—or not—might involve COVID relief.
An example of this battle played out last year, when Speaker Pelosi promoted the HEROES Act as a massive and urgently-needed stimulus package. Pro-life members voted against the bill because of various provisions that subtly increased abortion funding.
These provisions included nearly $1 trillion in relief to state and local governments, $100 billion to “health care providers,” and funding of health plans that cover abortions–all without the necessary language that prohibits such funding from paying for abortions or abortion coverage.
Now, pro-life members may be forced again to vote against a stimulus bill during a pandemic because it funds abortions, abortion providers, and abortion coverage.
“I don’t see how, with the next round of COVID relief, that the pro-life groups don’t oppose [it],” McClusky told CNA.
And more abortion funding fights will arise later next year when Congress considers appropriations bills for various government agencies in FY 2022.
Manchin occupies an influential position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which reviews and approves bills before they reach the Senate Floor. With Democrats only having a slim majority on the committee, he could thus could have a key role in ensuring that spending bills have pro-life protections intact.
However, Manchin is joined on the committee by Republican moderates Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who both have an “F” rating from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. Although both have previously opposed legislation to codify the Hyde Amendment—the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act—they have in the past supported spending bills with Hyde provisions as part of the status quo.
The “status quo,” however, is fast changing on Capitol Hill, and both senators could accede to Democratic clamors to pass spending bills without pro-life protections. Both pro-life and pro-abortion groups will be working hard to bring Murkowski and Collins to their side of the abortion funding debate.
And other pro-life rules could be permanently at risk in the new Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Mexico City Policy, for instance, bars taxpayer funding of foreign NGOs that provide or promote abortions. The Trump administration’s “Protect Life Rule” curbed funding of abortion providers through the Title X program, which provides grants for family planning clinics for low-income clients.
Both policies–which are enacted or repealed by presidential administrations–could be permanently repealed by Congress. Senate Democrats have sought to do exactly this in recent years by attaching amendments to must-pass spending bills.
While these “poison pill” amendments ultimately failed in the Senate Appropriations Committee, Democrats will now have control of the committee, and may find two sympathetic Republicans in Murkowski and Collins.
Health care legislation could also be an opportunity for new taxpayer funding of abortion coverage in public health plans.
When Democrats bring up health care proposals—whether they include an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, or a “public option”—many subsidized health plans could fund abortion-on-demand.
Thus, while Manchin has publicly supported the Hyde Amendment, he and other Senate moderates will have to endure the stress test of voting on health care and spending legislation with possible pro-abortion provisions–that don’t necessarily repeal the amendment itself.
Ultimately, pro-lifers will be on the defensive in 2021 while preparing for a possible House majority in 2022. How altered the political landscape will be, however, remains to be seen.