Politics

Pro-Choice Caucus Preps for Democratic Majority

Members hope to push back on abortion

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., leads the Pro-Choice Caucus with Barbara Lee, D-Calif. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

An influential House caucus hopes to use the Democrats’ majority next year to counteract Republican efforts to restrict abortion and family planning, although the group still faces an uphill battle against a Republican Senate and administration with strong ties to the anti-abortion lobby.

The Pro-Choice Caucus has been recently overshadowed by its conservative rival, the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, which counts Republican leadership and lawmakers from the influential Freedom Caucus among its members.

The past eight years of Republican House leadership provided ample opportunities to push for bills that limit abortion, though House-passed bills like a 20-week abortion ban faced hurdles to Senate passage.

House Democratic leadership aides have said that women’s reproductive health issues will be a priority in the next Congress.

“Women’s right to comprehensive health care and affordable family planning is still under assault from the GOP Senate, the White House and the states,” said Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the likely incoming speaker. “The new House Democratic Majority will fight back against these attacks, and work to reverse the damage inflicted by years of GOP attacks on women’s right to choose and access to affordable contraception.”

The abortion-rights caucus, which is led by co-chairs Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has hosted events with Pelosi.

“In our new majority, we will continue to fight for every woman’s right to freely access reproductive health care,” said DeGette in a statement. “The Trump Administration has made numerous attempts to throw up ideologically-driven road blocks to women’s health care, and we will stand up to every one of those attempts for as long as we have to.”

The Trump administration has strong ties to anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, which hosted the president and vice president as keynote speakers at its annual event in recent years.

Last week, White House officials met with representatives from groups like SBA List, Students for Life of America, and Live Action to discuss shared priorities for the upcoming year.

Going forward, DeGette said that the caucus plans to advocate for policies that would make health care more accessible regardless of an individual’s socio-economic situation so that contraception “and the right to choose when and where to have a family is finally a reality for all women,” a reference to recent administration actions.

The Trump administration released two final rules in early November that would allow any employer the option to forgo covering birth control by citing a moral or a religious objection. Democrats have opposed these rules, saying they would reduce women’s access to care.

DeGette has prioritized abortion access since her time in the Colorado House of Representatives, where she introduced and helped pass the nation’s first so-called “Bubble Law,” which mandates a barrier of at least eight feet between anti-abortion protestors and patients.

Her counterpart, Lee, is likely to continue efforts to advocate for a bill that would expand access to abortion under federally funded programs like Medicaid and Medicare as well as private employer-sponsored plans. While the latest iteration of Lee’s bill had over 130 co-sponsors, it would face opposition in the Senate.

Reproductive health advocates said two big issues they plan to lobby on next year are protecting the Title X family planning program and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Title X provides federal grant money to family planning providers. A final rule is expected by early 2019 that would bar grantees from performing abortions — even with non-federal funds — or referring patients to an abortion provider. This would affect organizations like Planned Parenthood that receive Title X funds.

Last year, the administration attempted to cut two years of grant funding for the pregnancy program, but later reinstated the money after a series of lawsuits prevented the changes from taking effect.

Other goals cited by groups include strengthening the 2010 health care law, overseeing Medicaid, and reversing the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars federal funding for international non-governmental organizations that provide abortion referrals or counseling or engage in abortion-rights advocacy. 

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