Despite two solid years of Republican control of the House and Senate, the pro-life movement is still waiting for its moment.
Though the GOP ran on what it called “the most pro-life platform” in the party’s history, their unified control of Congress has reflected little effort to engage on any of the issues outlined as important to the party in 2016.
Instead, the latest round of funding bills continued Obama-era polices toward teen pregnancy, fully funded Planned Parenthood, did not include legal protections for healthcare providers who object to performing abortions, and continued research on human-animal chimeras and fetal tissue harvested from aborted babies.
Worse, these weren’t simply sins of omission. These mainstream pro-life policies, regularly included in GOP platforms without controversy, were blocked even from being considered. When Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tried to offer an amendment defunding Planned Parenthood — a policy completely in line with the GOP’s own platform — he had to very publicly fight his own party to do it.
Now, the same Republicans who campaign on a pro-life platform are once again failing to commit to it when it matters — in particular when it comes to the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The powerful Appropriations Committee controls all of the spending legislation that goes through the House, which contain key areas for pro-life policies. Yet the woman in line for the job, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, is hardly the pinnacle of pro-life accomplishment.
As Tom McClusky, head of March for Life, noted in an op-ed in September, “Granger’s past support for questionable human embryonic stem cell experimentation and reluctance to promote pro-life provisions in committee” make her a dubious choice. The poor track record from this Congress on pro-life issues makes it clear that this committee needs a pro-life champion — someone who isn’t afraid of standing firm on the issue, in the face of considerable pressure from their own party (especially in the Senate)."
It’s unclear if Granger has the mettle, particularly as the pro-life battleground moves toward issues of bioethics. Will Granger, who supports research on embryonic stem cells, push forcefully to enact the GOP platform policy making it a crime to “acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research and ... enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts”? At a minimum, will she at least be willing to face off with Senate Republicans, who are notoriously reluctant to engage at all on pro-life priorities? Her past track record makes that unclear.
What the pro-life movement needs now is a no-nonsense fighter. Not a “maybe-later-now’s-not-the-time-we-know-best” type of deal-making legislator.
The only way a Granger chairmanship should even begin to be acceptable to the pro-life movement is if her chairmanship is paired with a suitable head for the subcommittee which controls healthcare spending. The movement has been in these negotiations before. In 2010, a similar issue arose as Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., was preparing to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee. Unhappy with his pro-life credentials, the pro-life movement demanded, and received, pro-life champion Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., as chair of the subcommittee on health.
Critically, this arrangement also included the placement of key staff. Personnel is policy, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the appropriations world. Marty Dannenfelser, longtime pro-life advocate, was given a senior role on health policy as a way of emphasizing and solidifying Upton’s commitment to a pro-life agenda.
Such an arrangement could be acceptable now with a subcommittee chairman known for strong credentials on bioethics issues, such as Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., or Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.. But it would need to be backed up by key staff placements, and a serious and credible commitment from Granger to defer to their decisions — and consequences from the GOP leadership if she does not.
On this question, it is critical that the pro-life movement does not settle. If they want different results in the next Republican Congress, different chairmen are going to be required. Granger could just as easily be replaced with the next in line, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., a known and respected fighter for pro-life priorities. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who is itching for the job, has an acceptable, though untested, track record on pro-life causes. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., also seen as a future chair, has a middling pro-life record, but a much stronger pragmatic streak than Granger.
The movement is well-positioned to negotiate on this issue. Their priorities have been routinely ignored, or blatantly sold out from under them. The Republican Congress has failed to deliver on even the most basic of commitments — or even to try. In light of this, a request that the House GOP leadership back a committed pro-life chairman seems, at a baseline, an acceptable one.
Pro-lifers must engage now, where and when it counts.
Rachel Bovard (@rachelbovard) is policy director of the Conservative Partnership Institute.