Congressional Republicans Fire Back at Calls to Loosen Abortion Restrictions

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R., Miss.) / Getty Images
April 17, 2020

Democratic leaders and activists are attempting to use the coronavirus pandemic to loosen restrictions on abortion pills and the use of human fetal tissue in taxpayer-sponsored research, spurring accusations of political opportunism from Republican lawmakers.

Senate and House Republicans have petitioned the White House and the Food and Drug Administration to safeguard rules regulating at-home abortions and the use of organs obtained from aborted babies in research. Democratic representatives Jared Huffman (Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), and Diana DeGette (Colo.) asked Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alexander Azar in an April 6 letter to waive restrictions on the use of human fetal tissue in experimental research—echoing complaints the three made soon after the agency adopted the ban in June 2019. Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) accused the Democrats of attempting to exploit the pandemic in a letter signed by 34 other Senate Republicans.

"These attempts to exploit the current crisis faced by our nation undermine your leadership and the promising research that is already underway," the senators wrote in a letter to the White House. "In reality, holding the line ethically gives us the ability to put resources toward better science that is already showing promise against the coronavirus."

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.) said in a separate letter signed by more than 120 House Republicans that alternative forms of medical research, such as the use of adult stem cells, have already shown greater medical promise than the use of harvested fetal tissue. He said attempts to resuscitate the use of taxpayer funds to encourage more organ harvesting would be "unethical and wrong."

"During this crisis, the last thing anyone should do is try and advance the left's radical abortion agenda. Life is precious at all stages and any claim to the contrary is unconscionable," Lamborn said in a statement. "We will find a cure for the current coronavirus, but using tissue from aborted babies to do so is unethical and wrong."

DeGette, Huffman, and Schakowsky did not respond to requests for comment.

Additionally, congressional Republicans are battling efforts from state-level Democratic officials to create loopholes for at-home abortions. Twenty-one Democratic attorneys general asked government agencies to waive regulations on an abortion pill because the regulations on the bill are "onerous and medically unnecessary." Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R., Miss.) authored a bicameral letter with Rep. Bob Latta (R., Ohio) urging the FDA to maintain prohibitions on do-it-yourself abortions.

The letter argued that at-home abortions, which "half of abortion providers do not consider [to be] safe," are even riskier in situations where emergency medical care cannot be easily accessed because of coronavirus.

Hyde-Smith added that hospitals already under pressure from the virus should not have to face the added pressure of complications brought on by at-home abortions.

"Representative Latta and I, with many of our colleagues, believe the FDA must maintain strict enforcement of the [drug safety standards] for abortion drugs," Hyde-Smith said in a statement. "With hospitals pushed to their limits by the COVID-19 health emergency, we should minimize, not increase, unrelated pressures on health care providers."

The pandemic's impact on abortion continues to be a source of conflict between legislators, who clashed over the initial coronavirus stimulus package's language regarding the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions.