Requiem for the Pro-Life Movement

Is the pro-life movement on Capitol Hill dead? If it is, it’s congressional Republicans who have killed it.

Funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) —where nearly all federal pro-life policy resides—will pass a Republican Congress this month without a single new pro-life policy attached to it.

Specifically, the bill would continue to fund Planned Parenthood in full—to the tune of $286 million. It would continue the practice of using taxpayer funds for research on “fresh” fetal tissue from aborted babies. Obama-era “pregnancy prevention” programs would still receive funding, including those President Trump’s HHS says have “no impact or had a negative impact on teen behavior.” Doctors and hospitals, which were promised the right of conscientious objection when it comes to performing an abortion, would remain unprotected.

Very few Republican senators or congressmen, if any, have made a fuss. The leaders of pro-life advocacy organizations, who were told by GOP leadership to hold off on pushing for pro-life amendments because they’d “get something in conference” (when the House and Senate come together to negotiate their different versions of legislation) will have once again been snookered.

Under Republican majorities, we are witnessing a complete capitulation on an issue that remains central to the Republican platform, and dear to the conservative soul.

How Did We End Up Here?

“Swamp politics” is an oversimplification, but an increasingly accurate way to describe the shameless shell games that continue to be played with the lives of the innocent.

The first move was made in June, when Senate Republicans made a “gentleman’s agreement” with their Democrat counterparts not to insert any “poison pills” into spending legislation. Poison pills, of course, were conveniently defined as long-held Republican spending policies on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. None of these policies were to be included in spending legislation. Senators who attempted to amend these bills faced backroom assaults and public wrist-slaps.

The second move was made when pro-life senators and groups accepted the explanation from GOP leadership that all of this—a bill without any new pro-life gains and an effort to block all amendments to add any—was a “strategic” choice to wait until the House and Senate went to conference. “It will be a top priority in conference,” GOP leadership repeatedly told me, and others in the pro-life movement.

At that point, the shell game was complete. The pro-life movement was subdued, an obedient Vladimir waiting for the promise of a Godot who will never actually materialize.

In the meantime, the GOP leadership was free to pass their spending bills without any disruptive “poison pills” (i.e.: pro-life) amendments while making no genuine efforts to articulate a so-called “conference strategy.”

In other words, 45 years after Roe v. Wade, after millions of dollars have been spent on advocacy, when more Americans than ever are pro-life, while thousands continue to march every year, after hundreds of members are elected to Congress on a singular promise to protect life, in only the second unified Republican government in 60 years, congressional leaders will have done . . . nothing. Worse, they won’t even have tried.

The duplicity, the insincerity, and the condescension with which Republican leaders treat the pro-life movement is disgraceful. But it’s to be expected when, for years, they’ve been able to do so with little-to-no consequence from pro-lifers.

Stop Listening, Start Doing

Despite repeated demonstrations to the contrary, GOP leadership is always able to convince pro-life Members of Congress and advocacy groups that this time is different. This time, they will take up the mantle of the cause, make a sincere effort, create a meaningful strategy, and leverage the full weight of their majority to enact consequential change.

Every time, we believe them. And every time, at the end of a process that, conveniently, occurs entirely behind closed doors, their leadership emerges with a shrug and says, “well, the Democrats didn’t want to do that. Sorry.”

The pro-life movement on Capitol Hill will languish as long as its leaders on and off the hill continue to defer to a leadership far more interested in saying “we passed spending bills” than they are about what’s in them. It will remain dormant as long as we continue to fall for and accept insincere efforts as genuine, and believe that obviously orchestrated outcomes are somehow unanticipated.

There is no hope of reviving this cause unless leaders inside and outside the Congress are willing to stop listening, and simply start doing.

We have an example in the president, who, in a turn of events unimaginable ten years ago, has achieved more for the pro-life movement than any other Republican president in history. Since taking office, President Trump has allowed states to defund Planned Parenthood, restored and expanded a policy banning taxpayer funds for groups who fund abortion overseas, defunded the pro-abortion United Nations Population Fund, and exempted organizations with moral objections to providing abortifacient drugs from Obamacare.

Executive actions are all the pro-life cause may have to rely upon, as Republican leaders face down the possibility of losing of at least one of their majorities in November.

Trump, for all his foibles, has been fearless in his pursuit of pro-life causes. The Republican Congress, with the naïve compliance of too many, has been feckless.

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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