As Elections Approach, a Look Back at the Abortion Agenda of the Democrat-controlled 117th Congress

By Jennifer Popik, J.D., Director of Federal Legislation

Editor’s note. This appears in the October edition of National Right to Life News. Please share the contents of this 49 page issue with pro-life family and friends.

With elections approaching rapidly, Congress has left Washington D.C. to hit the campaign trail.  Due to the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overruled the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortion has become a front and center campaign issue in many races. 

While Democrats on the campaign trail attempt to paint their Republican challengers as extremists on the issue of abortion, this Democrat-controlled 117th Congress has taken a staggering number of votes to expand elective abortion and to provide for government funding for abortion, both before and after the release of the June 24th Dobbs decision.  

According to the National Right to Life Scorecard, there have been 30 votes related to abortion this Congress, with most of them to expand abortion.  There are limited opportunities for Republicans in the minority to seek pro-life votes, but nonetheless they have forced several pro-life votes on abortion funding, and other items to protect unborn children.  See more here: https://www.votervoice.net/NRLC/home

The only thing holding back the Democrat agenda of abortion up to birth, without limits, funded by the government is the Senate filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to advance to a bill. 

While the Biden Administration has done what it can administratively to expand abortion at home and abroad, President Biden himself has called for an end to the filibuster on legislation dealing with abortion.  This past summer in Madrid, Mr. Biden told reporters,

The most important thing to be clear about is we have to codify Roe v. Wade into law and the way to do that is to make sure Congress votes to do that,” Mr. Biden told reporters during a press conference in Spain. “And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be provided an exception for this…to the filibuster.

Support among Senate Democrats to end the filibuster rule has grown in recent years and they would need only 50 votes to change the rule. Currently, Sens. Manchin (D-Wv.) and Sinema (D-Az.) have committed to keeping the filibuster intact.  If the Democrats were able to gain two or three seats, however, it is extremely likely that they would eliminate the filibuster and only require simple majority votes to pass sweeping abortion-expanding  legislation such as the “Women’s Health Protection Act.”

With the November 8th midterm elections rapidly closing in, there has been no shortage of pro-abortion votes taken in Congress.  Below is a look back at some of the “low-lights.”

Imposing Abortion until Birth Nation-wide

The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate and House have voted four times this Congress on essentially the exact same bill they claim will “codify” Roe v. Wade. However, the so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act,” would go far beyond codifying Roe, wiping away even modest restrictions on abortion. 

In none of the four votes in either the House or Senate did any Republican vote for the measure.  On the other hand, in a near-uniform embrace of abortion up until birth, only one Democrat in either chamber votes against the measure.  

The so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act” (WHPA) would enshrine into law abortion-on-demand and would overturn existing pro-life laws and state and federal levels. This bill seeks to strip away from elected lawmakers the ability to provide even the most minimal protections for unborn children, at any stage of their pre-natal development. 

This legislation would invalidate nearly all existing state limitations on abortion and prohibit states from adopting new limitations in the future.  Laws that provide women with information prior to an abortion, laws that provide for parental involvement, laws that prohibit abortion if done on a child simply because they have a disability – they would all be struck.  Further, it would invalidate most previously enacted federal limits on abortion, including federal conscience protection laws and most, if not all, limits on government funding of abortion.

As noted above, should Democrats gain seats in the Senate this fall, it is extremely likely that they would eliminate the filibuster and only require simple majority votes to pass sweeping legislation such as the WHPA. 

Taxpayer Funding of Abortion

After 45 years of bipartisan support, Democrats in the House have sought to remove the long-standing Hyde Amendment which prevents taxpayer funding of abortion in the annual budget.  

An array of long-established laws, including the Hyde Amendment, have created a nearly uniform policy that federal programs do not pay for abortion or subsidize health plans that include coverage of abortion, with narrow exceptions.  The Hyde Amendment is widely recognized as having a significant impact on the number of abortions in the United States, saving over an estimated two million American lives. 

National Right to Life believes that the Hyde Amendment has proven itself to be the greatest domestic abortion-reduction measure ever enacted by Congress. Additionally, a majority of Americans have consistently opposed taxpayer funding for abortion at home and abroad.

There were numerous appropriations votes supported by only Democrats that included taxpayer funding at home and abroad. These annual spending measures were ultimately rejected by the Senate as enough Senators vowed to vote against any spending bills to fund abortion.  So the Hyde Amendment has been retained, for now. 

There were also several votes on COVID-19 reconciliation bills, which dramatically departed from this longstanding policy of the Hyde Amendment. The COVID legislation ended up being a Democrat wish-list containing numerous provisions aimed at propping up the abortion industry as well as potentially funneling millions of dollars into programs without Hyde Amendment protections. This legislation unfortunately only needed 50 votes in the Senate and was approved along party-lines. Republicans attempted to insert Hyde language into the legislation but those amendment votes needed 60 members and failed. 

In addition, the WHPA would also eliminate any limits on government funding of abortion. 

More on these votes can be found here: https://www.votervoice.net/NRLC/home

Forcing Providers to Perform Abortions

One of the most dangerous threats to life came in the form of the Equity Act. While this legislation purported to deal with sex and gender discrimination, it contained language that could be construed to create a right to demand abortion from health care providers, and likely would place at risk the authority of state and federal governments to prohibit taxpayer-funded abortions.

Historically, when Congress has addressed discrimination based on sex, rules of construction have been added to prevent requiring funding of abortion or nullifying conscience laws. Since no rule of construction was included in the Equity Act, numerous pro-life groups, including National Right to Life urged opposition.  While this legislation failed to advance in the Senate, if it had become law, it would have forced individual health care providers who object to abortion, including those with religious objections, to violate their conscience and participate in abortion.

Violating the Free-Speech of Pro-Life Americans

This Congress has also taken a series of votes on similar but related pieces of legislation aimed at “voting rights.”  The Senate even attempted, but failed, to change the rules to only require 50 votes.   Whether it was the so-called “For the People Act ” or the “Freedom to Vote Act,” these pieces of legislation are intended to make it as difficult as possible for corporations (including nonprofit, issue-oriented corporations such as NRLC) to spend money to communicate with the public about the actions of federal officeholders, by applying an array of restrictions on ads, as well as requirements that violate the privacy rights of donors. 

The overriding purpose of the legislation is to discourage, as much as possible, disfavored groups (such as NRLC) from communicating about officeholders, by exposing citizens who support such efforts to harassment and intimidation, and by smothering organizations in layer on layer of record keeping and reporting requirements, all backed by the threat of civil and criminal sanctions. National Right to Life Committee and numerous other advocacy groups opposed passage of these bills, which have stalled this Congress.  

Nearly all of the most dangerous abortion-expanding bills have been only stopped by one thing – the filibuster.  If Democrats grow their Senate majority, these life-hostile bills would almost certainly be voted on again, and only would need 50 votes. Elections have consequences, and it is critical now, more than ever, to elect pro-life representatives to both Congress and state houses across this country to stop the Democrats push to have abortion until birth, never impeded, and funded by the taxpayers.