American taxpayers will continue to pay Planned Parenthood hundreds of millions of dollars each year despite Republican pledges to defund the nation's largest abortion organization, sparking criticism from pro-life activists.
Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million each year from American taxpayers, while performing more than 300,000 abortions. Congressional Republicans pushed legislation steering that money away from the organization in order to fund local female health clinics during the Obama administration—an effort that surged in the wake of revelations about its organ harvesting operations—only to be met with opposition from the Democratic White House. Many Republicans campaigned on the issue in 2016, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pledged to defund Planned Parenthood in January 2017, but nothing has come of those promises despite GOP control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.
The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill was seen as the prime opportunity to strike at Planned Parenthood, which received $543.7 million from taxpayers last year, about 40 percent of its $1.46 billion revenue stream. Republicans, however, did not include the defunding measure in the final bill, as negotiations over a proposed border wall and federal funding for a New York City tunnel took center stage. The negotiations over the massive spending package amounted to a failure, according to pro-life activists.
"It's hard for the pro-life base to look at a bill like the omnibus that fully funds Planned Parenthood and is chock full of other broken promises and not come away completely disgusted with the Republican Party," said Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project.
Neither the White House nor Speaker Ryan's office returned request for comment.
The omnibus bill also did not incorporate a measure to allow medical professionals and organizations that object to abortion to abstain from participating in them. Tom McClusky, a spokesman for the March for Life, said such a measure should have attracted bipartisan support. He criticized Democrats for opposing conscience protections as well as Republicans for not pushing harder for them despite saying such measures would be a "top priority."
"We did not elect this Congress or president to maintain the status quo on health care, which funds abortion," McCluskey said in a statement. "It is incredibly disheartening that conscience language was not included especially given that it is reflective of the majority of Americans' views in addition to the fact that for 10 years strong this has been a priority for pro-life groups, who received assurance from leadership that it was also a priority."
Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins said the impasse over abortion demonstrates the need for more pro-life lawmakers. "More pro-life leaders from both parties are needed to make an investment in life, not the abortion industry," she said. "Efforts to protect the conscience rights of Americans in the budget deserve our support, as no one should be forced into the ugly business of abortion. But no one should be forced to pay to keep Planned Parenthood's lights on and their people paid either."
APP's Schilling said the continued taxpayer support of abortion organizations could present problems for the Republicans heading into the 2018 midterms. If the party is not able to deliver on its promises to conservative voters it could depress the base in what is already an uphill battle given historical trends on midterm elections, as well surprise losses in traditionally Republican territory.
"Republicans in Congress would be wise to grow a backbone. At this point, not defunding Planned Parenthood—and demoralizing the pro-life base—is a far riskier political strategy than defunding it," Schilling said.
The spending package is expected to fund the government through September.