What You Need to Know About Coming Abortion Debates

President Joe Biden already has taken action to undo some of the pro-life policies set in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump. It appears likely that Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress will continue to press a progressive abortion agenda that endangers the unborn, mothers, and American freedoms.

Melanie Israel, a Heritage Foundation research associate in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, joins “Problematic Women” to explain the key pieces of abortion legislation we likely will see debated in the coming months and years.

Plus, Heritage Foundation education expert Lindsey Burke joins the show to discuss the impact that school closures are having on students across America. And as always, we’ll crown our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Lauren Evans: Here to help us break down the latest abortion news is Melanie Israel. Melanie is a Heritage Foundation research associate in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunities. Melanie, thank you so much for being here.

Melanie Israel: Thank you for having me. It’s good to be with you today.

Evans: You wrote in a recent Heritage paper that you foresee that the pro-life cause will be under constant attack over the next two years. And a lot of this attack is going to come straight from the abortion lobbyists. Can you explain what the pro-life movement is up against over at least the next two years?

Israel: Yes, absolutely. And I say the next two years because, of course, we have midterm elections and who knows what’s going to happen on that front with Congress. But we really are going to be experiencing threats coming from all different angles, both in Congress and the administration.

We know that the Biden administration is going to work very aggressively to roll back a lot of those good Trump administration regulations. Especially a lot of the things that they had done at [the Department of Health and Human Services].

They had implemented some different regulations that enforce transparency with Obamacare abortion coverage. They had enacted some regulations that disallowed abortion providers from participating in the federal family planning program. They had implemented moral and religious exemptions from Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

They had really done a lot of good work and, unfortunately, we know that the Biden administration is going to turn around and really do the exact opposite.

And then, of course, in Congress we have Democrats from [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi to Rosa Delauro, the House Appropriations [Committee] chair, committing to do away with the Hyde Amendment, which, of course, is an amendment to annual appropriation bills that says that taxpayer funding is not going to go toward elective abortions.

Democrats in Congress want to reverse that. They want taxpayers to have to fund elective abortions. That’s really one of their signature policies that they’re pushing. And we’re going to see them advocating for that in many different pieces of legislation here in the coming months.

Virginia Allen: Let’s dive a little bit deeper into some of those policies, like you mentioned, the Hyde Amendment. …

Will we see that the Hyde Amendment is able to stay in place or do you predict that [President Joe] Biden is likely going to repeal it? And then if he does, what is that actually going to mean for the nation?

Israel: Yeah. I would say that the threat is very real, particularly when we have Democrats in the Senate who are wanting to do away with the filibuster, which, of course, would mean everything could pass with a simple majority, which they have.

So the threat is very, very real. And we see them trying to advocate to do away with the Hyde Amendment in several different ways.

One of the things that they’re trying to do in the current budget reconciliation proposal is to have billions of dollars in this allegedly coronavirus relief funding that’s going to be spent without Hyde Amendment restrictions.

It’s going to allow billions of dollars to flow without that Hyde Amendment protection. That’s one of the proposals in budget reconciliation right now.

One of the other things that they’re trying to do is to explicitly make clear that Planned Parenthood is eligible for Paycheck Protection Program funding.

They want to be able to send those taxpayer dollars directly to the abortion industry—who, I will note, has billions and billions of dollars in assets and tons of excess revenue, according to their own annual report.

And then we also know that in annual appropriations legislation, they are saying that the Hyde amendment is a non-starter for them.

Now, on the flip side, we have Republicans in both the House and the Senate who have sent letters to other members of Congress and President Biden saying that for them, the Hyde Amendment must be in any federal spending bill or else they will not support it.

So we’ve really got a standoff already of both sides saying that the Hyde Amendment being in a bill or not in a bill is a non-starter for both sides. And so it’s going to be really, really interesting to see how this plays out and, frankly, [to] see who blinks first.

Evans: Wow. I can’t believe in the middle of a pandemic, the Biden administration is making it a priority to give Planned Parenthood [Paycheck Protection Program] funds. That’s insane.

Israel: Right. And again, we just have to look at their annual report, which, I will note, they usually release in January. They haven’t released one for this year yet. But for the one that they released in 2020, they’re reporting themselves for anyone to see all of these many, many millions of dollars in excess revenue and net assets.

This is not an organization that the Paycheck Protection Program is meant to be helping.

Evans: About a week after Biden took office, he rolled back some of the extra protections of the Mexico City policy that [former President Donald] Trump enacted. Can you talk about the implications of Biden’s decision to allow more taxpayer dollars to go to foreign organizations that fund abortions?

Israel: Right. And amazingly, the Trump administration had actually expanded the Mexico City policy to apply to even more avenues of funding than it has in previous Republican administrations. And so it was a policy that had an enormous impact.

It meant that these organizations—like Planned Parenthood, like Marie Stopes International—that go into other countries and try to perform and promote abortions weren’t receiving U.S. funding.

And the State Department did a review and found that women still had access to health care because funding was instead able to go to other organizations who weren’t part of the abortion industry and women were still able to get care.

The U.S. is the most generous country in the world when it comes to our foreign aid assistance. And the Trump administration was right to make sure that we are spending our money on lifesaving health care activities.

So it’s really disappointing to see that the Biden administration is rescinding that policy and now these organizations like Planned Parenthood International are going to be able to receive U.S. funding again.

They’ve also restored funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which the Trump administration had ended funding for.

Of course, the Trump administration ended that funding because they determined that the United Nations Population Fund was complicit in China’s coercive family planning practices—things like forced abortions and forced sterilizations.

So you’re right. We’re really seeing a lot of unfortunate activity happening internationally, not just domestically.

Allen: So much of this feels like it should not be a partisan issue. We should all be able to get behind and agree that, OK, we shouldn’t be handing out money to groups that do things, like you say, like really enforcing those very totalitarian [practices], like China’s one-child policy, those sorts of things.

I think one issue that has really surprised me is that the Biden administration has talked about weakening the Food and Drug Administration guidelines on chemical abortion pills. And those guidelines have been in place for years. They’re meant to really protect women, to keep them safe.

These are pills that allow you to, essentially, have an abortion at home. There’s a lot of risk involved.

So could you just explain what exactly these chemical abortion pills are? And then what loosening those restrictions would look like and how that could potentially jeopardize the health of women?

Israel: Absolutely. I am so glad that you brought this issue up because I think a lot of people don’t understand just how big of an impact the advent of chemical abortion pills has been when we talk about the scope of abortion more broadly.

When people think about abortion, they typically think about surgical abortion. And that’s where a lot of the legislation has been geared toward, that chemical abortion. This is really a new frontier that’s going to completely change the landscape on which these policy battles are fought.

Abortion pills—it’s a two-part process. You take one pill that essentially cuts off nutrients to the developing child. And then you take a second pill that induces cramping so that you end up expelling the pregnancy.

And obviously, for the abortion lobby, this means that they are able to perform more abortions because a chemical abortion process with abortion pills, it just doesn’t come with the same overhead requirements that a surgical abortion is going to come with.

So, one of the other things that’s really dangerous that people don’t realize is that abortion pills actually have higher rates of complications than surgical abortions.

We’re seeing now women being given these pills to go and have [an] abortion at home. The abortion industry downplays what those women are going to experience. They tell them it’s just going to be a heavy period. It’s not going to be anything unusual.

And of course, for so many women, that’s not true. They end up having excessive blood loss. They end up having to go to the hospital.

Taking an abortion pill if you have an ectopic pregnancy can be fatal. And in fact, there have been fatalities associated with the abortion pill. And one of the other things that I think is amazing that people should realize is that in the last decade, the portion of chemical abortions happening in the United States has increased 120%.

Evans: Wow.

Israel: According to our most recent data, roughly 40% of abortions that happen every year are chemical abortions. And so, for the Biden administration, we’re expecting them to loosen these restrictions. It’s really dangerous.

And when I say restrictions, I should probably clarify what we’re talking about. So right now, only qualified prescribers can give women a prescription for an abortion pill.

So this is not something that you can get at just any doctor’s office. You have to, essentially, go to an abortion provider because they’re the only ones who actively seek out to be a qualified prescriber. And they have to give a woman this medication.

You can’t pick it up in a retail pharmacy. You can’t go and get an abortion pill at Walgreens right now. But again, the Biden administration is wanting to change that. They’re wanting to roll back these restrictions.

And it’s really unfortunate to see the abortion industry pushing for things like mail-order abortion pills, telemedicine abortion. This is so dangerous for women who are not really going to be seen in person by a qualified doctor to determine if this is even safe for them.

Evans: One of the other ongoing debates when it comes to abortion is whether or not organizations should be forced to pay for abortions as part of their health care.

We’ve seen this, of course, with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have now been all the way up to the Supreme court twice to protect their religious freedom on this issue.

What can we expect under Biden in regards to protecting the rights of religious organizations who refuse to pay for abortion?

Israel: Right? So, this was one of those Trump administration policies that was such a wonderful thing to see. They issued regulations that provided both moral and religious exemptions from Obamacare’s mandate. That nearly all health insurance plans have to cover contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.

Which, of course, was a huge relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as other secular organizations who have not necessarily a religious belief, but a moral belief about the sanctity of human life.

Unfortunately, Biden—even on the campaign trail—was very, very clear that he did not agree with those exemptions being allowed and that he intends to roll them back.

It’s really amazing when you think, especially, about the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who serve the elderly, sick, and poor in the final hours of their lives. They are true servants, selfless at heart.

And for the Biden administration to essentially say, “Yeah, you’ve been litigating this issue for almost a decade, and we’re going to keep dragging you to court to force you to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in your health plan,” it’s really just astounding.

I think that, unfortunately, the American people just don’t realize how good it is for society when people are able to live their lives and have their views, not have to worry about violating their beliefs.

How horrible would it be if the Little Sisters of the Poor had to shut down rather than violate their religious beliefs? That wouldn’t help anyone. That would only hurt the elderly, sick, vulnerable who they’re trying to serve.

Allen: Yeah. No. It really is such a sad situation. And I think it goes, like you said, it goes to the heart of that issue, that it would be so tragic to see these organizations ultimately have to shut their doors because they are not willing to compromise on their religious beliefs, and they shouldn’t have to.

But, Melanie, I do want to ask you, are there other pieces of legislation at the federal level that you’re really keeping a close eye on right now in regards to abortion policy and abortion legislation?

Israel: Yeah, yeah. I would highlight, really, three main bills on the federal policy front.

Now, obviously, with the current makeup of Congress and the numbers that we’re working with, I think, more realistically, filing amendments or trying to force a vote on these issues is really going to be illustrative for people just to be able to see where their elected officials fall more than anything, rather than actually hoping that they’re going to pass into law.

But I do want to highlight … a couple. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, that is a bill that would augment current law by providing for criminal penalties if a health care provider does not provide proper medical care to a baby who is born after an abortion attempt.

Right now, federal law recognizes those babies as a person, but federal law right now doesn’t place any requirements on the medical practitioner to do something after that baby’s born. So the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would remedy that problem.

One of the other bills that I would want to highlight is the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. And that is a bill that would end the practice of inhumane late-term abortions performed after 20 weeks. At 20 weeks, scientific evidence tells us that babies are capable of feeling excruciating pain during an abortion procedure.

The U.S. right now is one of the only seven countries in the entire world that allows these elective, late-term abortions for any reason. So the [Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act] would really bring the U.S. more in line with the vast majority of the developed world.

Evans: Melanie, we’ve talked a lot about all the negative things, and you mentioned some great legislation, but is there any positive news going on in the pro-life world right now?

Israel: Yeah. I hope people are able to come away with this and realize that it’s not all doom and gloom. In the states we’re actually seeing a lot of wonderful progress happening. In the last decade we’ve had over 300 pro-life laws passing at the state level and legislatures are showing no sign of slowing down right now.

One of the things that several states are trying to take action on right now as their legislatures convene is addressing this issue of chemical abortion, because everybody can see it.

You can see it coming from a mile away that the Biden administration is going to weaken these restrictions to try to allow for things like telemedicine abortion, abortion pills by mail.

So state legislatures are trying to work to augment their current state law to ensure that the current restrictions that are in place will still be in place at the state level within their jurisdiction. So that’s definitely an encouraging development.

And then, we also see more states trying to act to protect born-alive infants, to end late-term abortions.

At the federal level it’s going to be really, really difficult to see a lot of progress here for the next couple of years. But in the states, we have a lot of really, really energized members of state legislatures and state activist groups who recognize that you can’t really rely on federal policy and regulations right now and so they’re taking actions themselves.

Allen: Well, it’s good to end on some good news. Melanie, thank you. We just really appreciate all of the work that you do on this issue. How can our listeners follow your work and read what you’re writing about?

Israel: Sure, sure. So you can check out my papers at heritage.org. And then I also provide commentary at The Daily Signal quite frequently. And just to give folks a preview, I’ll have a paper about the 117th Congress, the agenda, what we can expect to see coming out shortly.

So we’ll be sure to share that at heritage.org, as well as a deep dive about the chemical abortion issue, really exploring the history of the abortion pill, and how it was developed, and how it got FDA approval. It’s a pretty wild ride.

So those are two different papers I can preview that’ll be coming out here in the next couple of weeks.

Allen: Great. Melanie, thank you so much for your time.

Israel: Thanks for having me.

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