The term “political football” is a perfect description for how the executive branch of the federal government handles abortion. There are two “teams,” pro-life and pro-choice, who toss the issue back and forth from administration to administration. Neither decisively wins, at least in the long run. While state level legislation and federal court decisions have moved the ball in real ways, executive orders and legislative rules are barely even temporary, depending entirely on who is in the White House.
After President Biden’s first 100 days in office, it is clear that the football is in the hands of the pro-abortion team. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would restore a major source of federal funding for abortion clinics. This rule would undo the Trump administration’s “Protect Life” rule, which withheld money designated for low-income family planning from any clinics that “perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion…” The “Protect Life” rule also required clinics to keep their abortion and non-abortion services physically and financially separate.
The rule made a difference. Planned Parenthood, which drew an estimated $60 million in annual federal funding just from the Title X Family Planning Program, dropped out rather than attempt to meet the new requirements. Now, under the Biden Administration, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are back on the federal dole.
Bizarrely, the Biden Administration claims that its new rule will not lead to federally funded abortions. When Owen Jensen, a reporter from the Catholic network EWTN asked why the President would “insist that pro-life Americans pay for abortions and violate their conscience,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied, “that’s not an accurate depiction of what happened.” She then quoted from the Public Health Service Act, which stipulates that no Title X funds “shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”
That isn’t a real answer, of course, as Jensen pointed out. Money is easily moved around. In a fiscal shell game, Planned Parenthood can simply divert funding they don’t have to spend on non-abortion services back to abortion.
Speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann agreed: “In spite of explicit prohibitions in federal law and clear congressional intent that abortion may not be a part of this program, it has repeatedly been coopted by abortion supporters as a funding stream for organizations, programs, and facilities that directly promote and provide abortions.”
What might we learn from all of this?
First, though elections do have consequences, at least when it comes to who is President, they’re short-lived. This means that putting “the right person” in the White House matters, but is not the highest or best goal of pro-lifers. For example, President Trump’s most significant contribution to the pro-life “team” are not his executive orders, but a thoroughly remade judiciary. At the same time, many more millions of tax dollars were given to Planned Parenthood by Congress. The most effective legislation to limit abortion and fund alternative care has been at the state level. Those elections matter, too.
Second, the battle for unborn lives will be won or lost in the larger culture. It is encouraging that though Americans are very much divided on abortion itself, they strongly oppose government footing the bill. A Marist Poll earlier this year found that almost three-fifths of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortion.
In other words, a lot of folks who want abortion to remain legal don’t want to coerce their neighbors into paying for them. That’s at least a start. The finish line, however, is when abortion is as unthinkable as other grave evils like slavery and child sacrifice.
Until then, this political football will continue to change hands with each and every election.
Julie Asher | Catholic Philly | April 19, 2021
John McCormack | National Review | January 29, 2021
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