WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - After the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a budget bill blocking federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the legislation will reach President Barack Obama's desk in a historic first for the pro-life movement.
"For the first time since America's largest abortion business began receiving public funding - nearly five decades ago - the president will have to decide up or down on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, on Wednesday.
The bill in question would block federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year. It would also redirect funds to community health centers who also offer prenatal services, and cancer screenings that Planned Parenthood only offers referrals for.
In addition, the bill effectively guts the full health care reform law, although it doesn't explicitly repeal it. The legislation would get rid of both the individual and employer insurance mandates, the expansion of Medicaid coverage, and the "Cadillac" tax, or the 40 percent tax on expensive employer health plans.
The bill passed by a vote of 240-181, mainly along party lines. Only one Democrat - Rep. Colin Peterson (Minn.) - supported it and three Republicans - Reps. Bob Dold (Ill.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), and John Katko (N.Y.) - opposed it.
It passed the Senate in December through reconciliation, a budget process that limits the time for debate and allows for a simple majority passage rather than the usual three-fifths majority for legislation.
President Obama has already announced his intention to veto the bill and Congress does not have the votes to override a veto. Nonetheless, the bill's passage sets "an important precedent for the next administration" and emphasizes the importance of electing a pro-life president, as well as pro-life majorities in the House and Senate, in 2016, Dannenfelser insisted.
Others were less excited about the bill. The group Democrats for Life praised the defunding of Planned Parenthood but cautioned against doing away with the health care law.
"I think there are some fixes that we can do, to ensure that it [the health care law] is working properly, but to just overturn it we oppose," Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told CNA. "We oppose abortion, but we think health care is life-saving."
"I think if we're going to overturn or repeal funding for Planned Parenthood, we have to really put stress on how we help pregnant women, and where these alternatives are available, and the good work that community health centers are doing," she added.
The U.S. Bishops Conference did not take an official position on the bill, but re-affirmed their previous positions regarding funding of Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act.
In August, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who chairs the bishops' pro-life committee, supported legislation defunding Planned Parenthood and re-directing funds to health care providers who don't perform abortions.
Regarding the Affordable Care Act, the bishops' conference has pushed for universal health care access but did not support the final law's passage because it funded elective abortions, lacked sufficient conscience protection for employers, and prohibited undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance on the law's exchanges.
Still, the bishops' conference does not favor a full repeal of the law, but rather advocatse for fixes to be made to correct problems with the law.
Other pro-life leaders agreed that defunding Planned Parenthood isn't enough - support must be given to alternative options for women's health care.
"If he cares about women and children, President Obama should sign this bill that reallocates public funds instead to facilities providing authentic healthcare for women," stated Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association.
Planned Parenthood has claimed that it should receive federal funds because of the non-abortion health care services it provides, but its non-abortion services declined significantly in fiscal year 2014-15, while its abortion services remained about the same from the previous year, SBA List noted.
"This profit-driven, abortion-centered business is a bad investment for taxpayers, period. Only abortions did not see a dramatic drop [in 2015]," Dannenfelser stated.
The nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood received almost $554 million in FY 2014-15 from government health grants and reimbursements. Federal dollars are prohibited from funding abortions, although critics argue that the money frees up other funds to focus on abortion. The organization's revenue from federal dollars are largely Medicaid reimbursements and Title X funds, a family planning fund for low-income persons.
Cancer screening and prevention services at Planned Parenthood dropped by 27 percent in 2015, according to Planned Parenthood's annual reports. The number of abortions performed, however, fell only around one percent in fiscal year 2014-15.
"There are more than 13,500 publicly supported alternatives for women's health care in this country and 588 in Missouri - alternatives that treat women without performing abortions," stated Rep. Wagner.
"Planned Parenthood is not the only game in town," Day said. "They are a very small player in the health care system, and they should not be receiving this special treatment."
"Planned Parenthood should be forced to raise their funds entirely through private donations like any other non-profit and not rely on taxpayers for the majority of their revenue," stated Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life.
Pro-lifers also objected to the federal funding of the organization on the grounds that its affiliates have supplied fetal tissue of aborted babies to harvesters.
That was brought to light in the summer of 2015 when the citizen journalist group Center for Medical Progress launched an investigative series of videos exploring Planned Parenthood's role in offering the fetal body parts for compensation. Top Planned Parenthood doctors were seen on an undercover camera casually discussing the dismemberment of aborted babies.
Two Congressional committees subsequently launched investigations into Planned Parenthood over allegations of illegal behavior, but did not find evidence that the organization broke the law. A special investigative panel has been created to further look into whether the organization committed any illegal acts.
Fetal body parts can be sold for research for "reasonable" compensation like operating and transportation costs, but not for "valuable consideration," according to federal law. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly said that it has acted within the law and has made no illegal profits off the sale of unborn body parts.
Still, many pro-life groups argue that the footage in the videos shows the grisly reality of abortion and related use of unborn babies' tissue.
"End taxpayer funding to those who commit these cruel and inhumane acts," Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) stated on the House floor on Wednesday before the reconciliation vote.