The Corner

Politics & Policy

Republican Senators Skip Vote on Key Pro-Life Legislation

Pro-life activists gather for the National March for Life rally in Washington. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

On Thursday evening, the night before the annual March for Life, the Senate voted on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a measure to prohibit taxpayer-funded abortion, which would have codified the Hyde Amendment, a rider added to federal appropriations bills to ensure that taxpayer dollars never directly underwrite abortion procedures.

The legislation needed 60 votes to pass, but it failed even to reach a majority, despite the fact that the Republican party holds a four-vote edge in the Senate. Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted with Democrats against the bill, while Democratic senators Bob Casey (Pa.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) voted with the Republicans in favor.

Five Republican senators, meanwhile, were not present for the vote: Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and Rand Paul (Ky.).

A spokesman for Alexander told National Review the senator “was traveling back to Tennessee to attend to a personal matter” and added that “he is pro-life and supportive of the measure.” According to a spokesman, Crapo “did not vote as he is ill” but “would have voted to invoke cloture had he been present to vote.” Crapo was a cosponsor of the legislation.

A spokesman for Graham told National Review that the South Carolina senator left for Turkey on Wednesday evening, where he is discussing the fight against ISIS. “Graham has a long history of votes in support of the pro-life cause and just introduced the 20-week bill this week in the Senate,” his spokesman added. “He would have proudly supported the Wicker amendment had he been there today.”

Burr’s press office had not responded to National Review’s request for comment by the time this piece was published.

Late Thursday afternoon, meanwhile, Paul appeared on Fox News with Neil Cavuto in New York City to discuss the partial government shutdown and the situation in Syria. A spokesman for the Kentucky senator told National Review: “Unfortunately, today was scheduled to be a day out of session and Senator Paul committed to various events outside of Washington before this last minute vote was scheduled. Had this vote been closer, he would have returned, but having voted on an identical bill just two months ago, Senator Paul decided to keep his commitments.”

The “identical bill” the spokesman referenced was in fact an amendment Paul sponsored last August to defund abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, as part of the Labor–Health and Human Services appropriations process. Not only did that vote take place last Congress, but it was an entirely separate issue from the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which did not have to do with defunding Planned Parenthood and which the Senate has never voted on before.

What’s more, January 17 was scheduled to be an in-session day as early as December 12, although the 2019 Senate GOP retreat also had been announced in mid December for yesterday. The week of the March for Life is typically a time for Republican leadership to schedule a number of votes on key pro-life legislation.

Four out of the five Republican senators who missed the vote signed on to a letter to President Trump earlier this week, emphasizing the existence of a pro-life majority in the Senate. “Public support for pro-life policies will send a strong signal that attempts by Democrats to alter decades of established, bipartisan policies will be met with resistance and failure,” the letter read in part.

“With pro-life ‘champions’ like these, who needs Planned Parenthood?” a senior Republican aide told National Review. “This is embarrassing. You can’t call yourself pro-life if you can’t even show up for the vote designed to show that we’ve got a pro-life majority.”

In 2016, the Democratic party altered its platform to officially oppose the Hyde Amendment, and earlier this week, Democrats in the House of Representatives announced their intention to overturn Hyde and obtain direct federal funding of abortion procedures. Thursday night’s Senate vote was meant to be a rebuke of that Democratic effort, illustrating that a strong Republican majority will continue to support conscience protections for American taxpayers.

It is disappointing not to see that majority in action.

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