GOP delays coronavirus bill in part over complaints that it doesn't bar federal funds for abortion

"Very on-brand for pro-lifers to refuse to save a whole bunch of lives," feminist writer Jill Filipovic says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 12, 2020 5:54PM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

The White House and congressional Republicans refused to support House Democrats' coronavirus relief bill, in part over claims that it does not safeguard against federal funds being used to provide abortions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Thursday that the Senate will not go on its scheduled recess next week to continue negotiations on the legislation. The announcement came after McConnell rejected the bill proposed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calling it an "ideological wish list." President Donald Trump also objected to what he claimed were Democratic "goodies" in the bill.

Among the Republicans' hangups are a provision that would provide paid sick leave to workers, NBC News reported, and a complaint about an unrelated issue: abortion.

"The White House believes provisions in the Pelosi bill that pertain to the Violence Against Women Act could open the door to federal funds for abortion," the network reported." In response, the White House wants to add Hyde Amendment language to the bill — restricting the use of federal funds for abortion."

Several senior White House officials told the far-right outlet The Daily Caller that Pelosi lobbied for up to $1 billion in reimbursements for laboratory claims, which the officials claimed "would set a precedent of health spending without protections outlined in the Hyde Amendment."

"A new mandatory funding stream that does not have Hyde protections would be unprecedented," a White House official told the outlet. "Under the guise of protecting people, Speaker Pelosi is working to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent covering abortion — which is not only backwards, but goes against historical norms."

Another White House official not named in the report went a step further, accusing Pelosi of pushing for an abortion "slush fund."

But The Daily Caller acknowledged in its story that Politico had already reported that the "two sides resolved issues over federal funding of abortion in a separate bill."

Ilyse Hogue, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the White House claims were a "straight up lie."

"The fact that the GOP would use the [coronavirus pandemic] to spread more falsehoods and grind an ideological ax is sickening and perverse," she said.

Planned Parenthood accused Republicans of using the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points.

"Using this very real public health emergency to attack abortion coverage shows a despicable lack of concern about the severity of this crisis," the organization said. "These politicians will do anything to advance their anti-abortion agenda."

"Yet again, Republicans prove they'll do anything to attack abortion – including co-opting a public health crisis to further their agenda," the National Women's Law Center said in a statement. "People need care – not to be used as political bargaining chips."

The Democratic-led House is expected to approve the bill Thursday, but the Republican-led Senate will hold off until Pelosi negotiates an agreement with the White House.

"I am glad talks are ongoing between the administration and Speaker Pelosi," McConnell said. "I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong."

Pelosi said at a news conference that Democrats were "addressing" some Republican concerns as she pushed back on Republican plans to delay the negotiations into next week.

"We need to just make a decision to help families right now," she said. "We are responding to their concerns, we don't want them moving the goalposts and that's it. I'm not sticking around because they don't want to agree to language."

But Republicans' attempts to delay the funding bill over an unrelated issue like abortion left Democrats apoplectic amid the administration's bungled response to the pandemic.

"I'm enraged beyond words right now," Hogue said.

"Very on-brand for pro-lifers to refuse to save a whole bunch of lives," feminist writer Jill Filipovic added, "[and] put millions of people at risk so they can do a little performative politicking that won't actually prevent a single abortion."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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