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Are Abortion Issues Blocking A Deal On The Budget?

Participants gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 7 for a rally in support of Planned Parenthood.
Participants gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on April 7 for a rally in support of Planned Parenthood.

So are abortion-related policy add-ons really preventing Democrats and Republicans from reaching a deal on a spending bill to keep the government running past midnight Friday?

It depends who you ask.

Democrats say absolutely. "Mr. President, the Republicans want to shut down our nation's government because they want to make it harder for women to get the health services they need," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid was referring to a proposal passed by the House to defund the Title X family planning program, which in addition to providing contraceptive services also provides primary health care services to more than 5 million women and men annually.

At a news conference off the Senate floor, Democratic women didn't mince words. Said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.: "Republican colleagues are more interested in playing to their extremist supporters who care more about hurting women's health care than reducing the deficit."

But Republicans say Democrats aren't being straight. "Almost all of the policy issues have been dealt with," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters shortly after the Senate allegations were made.

And did that include the defunding of Title X, and a separate proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, whose affiliates are the largest single organizational recipient of Title X funds?

"Almost all of the policy riders have been dealt with," Boehner replied. "Our goal is not to shut down the government. Our goal is to cut spending."

House Republican women, who held their own news conference late Friday afternoon, echoed Boehner's line.

"I might submit that folks on the other side are trying to distract all of you," said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. "The bottom line is it's about cuts. It's about spending reductions."

On the other hand, when pressed about whether they would vote for a bill without the restrictions on Title X or Planned Parenthood, the GOP women, like Boehner, demurred.

"We're going to wait and see what comes back," said Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The family planning amendments, however, aren't the only provisions in the spending bill related to abortion. (The family planning program, to be clear, has always banned abortion, but opponents say Planned Parenthood should not be allowed to be part of that program because its affiliates provide abortions using other funding sources).

Elsewhere in the bill is language that would restore two abortion restrictions that were in effect during previous GOP reigns. One would limit the ability of the District of Columbia to use locally raised tax funds to pay for abortions for poor women.

The other would reinstate the so-called "Mexico City Policy." It forbids U.S. foreign aid to international groups that "perform or promote" abortion. President Obama reversed the policy by executive order in January 2009.

( Note: Frank James has a related post on the It's All Politics Blog.)

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