Washington View, September 2022
Written by Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Political Affairs | Published: September 19, 2022
Abortion Rights Threatened Across the United States
On June 24, the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 decision, stripped Americans of the constitutional right to abortion. This was the first time in American history that the Court acted to take existing rights away from people.
The consequences were immediate. Abortion appointments were canceled in states across the country. In one egregious example, a 10-year-old rape victim had to travel from Ohio to Indiana for a safe abortion. Extremist state legislators and governors promised swift action to ban abortion and even the right to travel to another state in order to terminate a pregnancy.
It also spurred a flurry of activity by the Biden administration, Democrats in Congress, and progressive state legislators to push for laws protecting access to abortion care. President Biden has signed two executive orders since the decision to mobilize the federal government to do whatever it can—which is limited, given some federal laws—to protect the right to abortion, including enforcing existing anti-discrimination laws to protect access to medication, directing the Department of Justice to protect the freedom to travel between states for the purposes of reproductive health care, and identifying ways to help states where abortion remains legal to cover the costs of people coming to their states for care. The Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit to block Idaho’s strict abortion ban on the basis that it is contrary to federal law that requires hospitals that receive Medicare funding to provide emergency care to anyone who needs it, including abortion in certain instances.
The U.S. House also passed a series of bills to protect access to care. The Women’s Health Protection Act would create a federal right to legal abortion under statute and would prevent states from imposing onerous and unnecessary restrictions on abortion care. The Ensuring Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Act would guarantee the right to travel between states for abortion care. The Right to Contraception Act would create a federal statutory right to obtain and use contraceptives and a corresponding right of health care workers to provide those contraceptives, and it would prevent states from interfering with anyone’s access to birth control.
The Women’s Health Protection Act failed twice in the Senate this year, and the other two bills have yet to come before that body where they face long odds.
House Begins 2023 Appropriations Debate
On July 1, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2023 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Like last year, this legislation calls for huge strides forward in international family planning support.
The bill provides a total of $830 million for international family planning efforts, with $70 million of that directed to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). While still short of the more than $1 billion needed from the U.S. to get contraceptives to everyone who needs them, it is $220 million more than the current investment. The bill also includes the Global HER Act provision to prevent a future president from unilaterally imposing the Global Gag Rule, and it strips out the Helms Amendment that has prevented U.S. aid from being used to make safe abortion available in countries where it is legal.
During the Committee debate, two amendments to undermine the family planning provisions were defeated. The first, offered by Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA), would have eliminated the Global HER Act provision, reinserted the Helms Amendment, struck language requiring that information on contraceptives be medically accurate, and inserted language designed to block support to UNFPA. It was defeated on a vote of 23-32. The second amendment, offered by Rep. Julia Letlow (R-LA), would have prohibited funding to UNFPA and eliminated all funding for bilateral family planning. It failed 24-32.
On July 5, the House Appropriations Committee approved the 2023 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill that contains $500 million for the Title X (ten) domestic family planning program. That’s an increase of $213 million over the current level. The bill also lifts the discriminatory Hyde Amendment that has blocked access to safe abortion for lower income Americans for decades. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) proposed an amendment to the legislation to add a host of abortion restrictions back into the bill. It was defeated by a vote of 26-31.
2023 Senate Appropriations Proposals Surprisingly Generous
In late July, Senate Appropriations leaders released their draft Appropriations bills. The State Department and Foreign Operations bill calls for increases in funding for international family planning and includes the Global HER Act provision. The Senate bill, which has not been brought up in Committee yet, provides a total of $710 million for family planning, an increase of just over $100 million from the current level, with $60 million of that directed to UNFPA.
The Senate version of the Labor, HHS, and Education bill makes crucial new investments in family planning and reproductive health as well. It calls for funding Title X at $512 million and also eliminates the Hyde Amendment. The Senate bill also calls for $130 million for a new Reproductive Health Access Fund to help women who live in states that have banned abortion get care in states where it remains legal.
The appropriations process is likely to remain uncompleted until after the midterm elections in November.
Kansans Reject Effort to Strip Abortion Rights From State Constitution
On August 2, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that sought to eliminate the right to abortion. The amendment, drafted by opponents of abortion in a confusing manner, was placed on the primary election ballot because supporters thought conservative turnout would dwarf other voters. Also, in the days leading up to the election, voters across Kansas were sent text messages urging them to vote “yes” to defend choice—when a yes vote was in favor of the amendment.
The confusing wording, the timing, and the misinformation failed. The amendment failed in a landslide, with 59 percent of voters rejecting it. Importantly, the effort also seems to have been responsible for driving up voter turnout. The total votes on the amendment were 20 percent higher than the combined total of votes in the two party primaries occurring simultaneously.
The result in Kansas confirms that abortion rights are strongly supported by voters everywhere in the country.