On September 23, House Republican leaders released their “Pledge to America,” a broad set of policy proposals and goals covering five basic areas: jobs, government spending, health care, congressional reform and national security. The ambitious GOP agenda notably vows to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” Specifically, it declares: “We will permanently end taxpayer funding of abortion and codify the Hyde Amendment.” It also states that Republicans “pledge to honor families [and] traditional marriage.” The purpose of the new agenda is to paint a picture for voters of what things would look like if Republicans gain majority control of the House during this November’s midterm election season. Appealing to a voter base disenchanted with Obama’s radical agenda, the GOP has gained significant ground in the elections thus far.
The new Republican governing agenda has been met by many social conservatives with praise and welcome. However, with such bold, sweeping statements on projected goals in all the major domestic issues, it will be difficult for Republicans to keep all of their promises, even if they win majority control. In regards to abortion, we can only hope that the GOP will put their words into action after the elections.
Health Care, Abortion and First Amendment Rights of Conscience
The agenda makes the following promise to stop federal funds for abortion and guarantee rights of conscience for health care professionals:
“We will establish a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion. This prohibition would go further and enact into law what is known as the Hyde Amendment as well as ban other instances of federal subsidies for abortion services. We will also enact into law conscience protections for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, and hospitals.”
This government-wide funding ban and codification of the Hyde Amendment is a direct reference to Congressman Chris Smith’s bill, H.R. 5939, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which was introduced in July and already has 183 co-sponsors.
The Smith bill would enact a blanket prohibition on: (1) federal funds for abortion; (2) federal funds for health benefit plans that cover abortion; (3) tax benefits relating to abortion; and (4) the use of government facilities and employees for abortion. The prohibitions also apply to the District of Columbia. There is an exception for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or to preserve the life of the mother.
The bill also prohibits Federal, State and local government programs that receive federal funds from discriminating against health care professionals and institutions that do not participate in abortions on grounds of conscience.
Currently, there are numerous policies banning federal funding of abortion, applying to different agencies and programs under varying contexts. Most of these policies are appropriations bill riders subject to re-approval every year. The Smith bill is designed to conglomerate all of those provisions and make them permanent, so they are no longer reliant on the yearly re-approval process.
Provisions that would be combined and codified include the Hyde Amendment,  the Hyde-Weldon Amendment,  the Helms Amendment,  the Smith FEHBP Amendment,  the Dornan Amendment,  and policies prohibiting federally funded abortions for U.S. military personnel and their families, Peace Corps volunteers, Indian Health Service clients and federal prisoners.
The proposed legislation would also apply to Obama’s health care law, and would provide better assurances than Obama’s Executive Order that no taxpayer funds will be used for abortion coverage under Obamacare.
The Smith bill provides some substance to the otherwise sweeping promises of the GOP agenda by presenting an actual, concrete plan of attack that is already in the pipeline. But however encouraging this may be, a mere reference is not a guarantee that the bill will actually become law. At best, the bill’s 183 co-sponsors and the specific mention of the bill in the GOP plan indicate that the bill could be seriously considered if Republicans gain the majority in the House; but the pro-life community should not expect anything beyond that at this juncture.
Other Social Issues: Same-Sex Marriage and Bioethics
The preamble of the Republican plan states: “We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core our American values.”
Unlike the abortion issue, the issue of protecting the traditional definition of marriage did not make it past the preamble of the GOP pledge. No particular policy recommendations or references to proposed legislation on marriage are made in the rest of the document. The GOP failed to take a clear, firm stance in opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
With the recent recognition of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia and the Ninth Circuit decision overturning California’s Proposition 8, legalizing same-sex marriage is currently a hotly debated political and social issue that should have been addressed in the GOP agenda. Avoiding the topic in the substance of the document may reveal the GOP’s lack of real commitment to take legislative action in defense of marriage. The mention of this issue in the preamble is only a rhetorical showing of moral support for traditional marriage, and should not be used as a basis for any expectations of specific legislative action by the GOP on this issue.
The same can be said of other life issues that have recently been in the national limelight, such as Obama’s illegal policy on federally-funded embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). With the federal case on this policy still pending and major pieces of legislation being introduced in Congress to authorize federally funded ESCR, the GOP should have jumped on the opportunity to address this issue and take a stand in defense of human life. It is disappointing that this issue was left entirely untouched.
The GOP’s “Pledge to America” is not a projection or guarantee of what will actually happen if Republicans gain majority control in the House. Rather, it is a list of the party’s ideals and overarching goals, written specifically with an eye towards attracting voters who have become disillusioned with Obama’s agenda. Although it is disappointing that Republicans failed to take a strong stance against same-sex marriage and human embryonic stem cell research, their firm resolution in opposition to the allocation of federal funds for abortion gives the pro-life community reason for hope and encouragement. But, if and when the GOP takes back the House, whether they will make good on their promises and “put their money where their mouths are” is something that we shall just have to wait and see.
 The Hyde Amendment prohibits allocation of Labor, Health and Human Services Departments funds for abortion.
 The Hyde-Weldon Amendment is part of the Hyde Amendment which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against health care providers who chose not to participate in abortions on grounds of conscience.
 The Helms Amendment prohibits funding for abortion as a method of family planning
 The Smith FEHBP Amendment prohibits federally funded abortion coverage for federal employees.
 The Dornan Amendment prohibits use of congressionally appropriated funds for abortions in the District of Columbia.
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