WASHINGTON — House Democrats passed a bill to try to end the government shutdown on Thursday night that would also undercut a major anti-abortion policy Donald Trump implemented as one of his first acts as president nearly two years ago.
The bill will not become law, with both the Senate and Trump already saying they won’t consider it as both sides continue to fight about funding for the border wall, but Democrats note that the language repealing Trump’s abortion policy already received unanimous bipartisan support in a Senate committee last year.
Trump’s Mexico City Policy, also called the “global gag rule” by opponents, prevents US funding from going toward international organizations that “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” While every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has implemented a similar policy — and every Democratic president has repealed it — Trump’s version applies to more organizations and is further-reaching than any of its predecessors. It has been blamed by global health interest groups for the closure of women’s health clinics around the world.
But the bill House Democrats passed Thursday night would get rid of the ban on funding to organizations that merely promote abortion. Tucked into the legislation to try to end the government shutdown is a section that would weaken the Mexico City Policy. It uses double negatives to declare that under the bill foreign NGOs would “not be ineligible for” US government funding “solely on the basis of health or medical services, including counseling and referral services.”
Republicans and anti-abortion groups opposed the bill and cast it as part of Democrats’ pro-abortion-rights agenda. “On day one of the new Congress, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats are already trying to foist a radical pro-abortion agenda on the nation,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement Wednesday. “The House’s spending bill would repeal this successful pro-life policy.”
But the language was already approved on a bipartisan basis in the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. In fact, it was part of a much larger bill that received support from all 31 members of the committee in June with a public statement of support by vocally anti-abortion Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The language was a small part of the Senate’s 2019 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which never made it to a full Senate vote, but would have funded the State Department and related programs through September of this year. A Democratic aide with knowledge of the negotiations told BuzzFeed News that the specific language pertaining to the Mexico City Policy in that bill was adopted without a vote. The policy had the support of Democrats as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who have been known to vote against their party on abortion legislation and wanted to “lessen the effects” of Trump’s policy.
Democrats now argue that since Senate Republicans already supported the bill in committee, they should support it now. “It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported,” a joint statement on the bills made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on New Year’s Eve read.
Justin Goodman, the communications director for Schumer, contested the idea that the bill’s language is anything less than bipartisan. “The entire bill was approved by everyone,” he said.