Senate Democrats block abortion bill: Is shutdown battle brewing?

The Senate blocked a bill to penalize late-term abortions Tuesday, and time is running out before the government could shut down if abortion, Planned Parenthood, and the federal budget remain enmeshed. 

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. Earlier, Senate Democrats blocked Republican legislation Tuesday that would prohibit most late-term abortions, the latest episode in a fight that has threatened to cause a partial government shutdown. At the same time, the chamber's GOP leader began choreographing a series of votes designed to avert a federal closure.

Democrats in the Senate blocked a bill to make late-term abortions more difficult Tuesday, leaving Republicans with an array of choices that includes shutting down the government over abortion issues.

With just over a week before the current budget runs out, Republicans are deciding whether to throw a defunding of Planned Parenthood into their list of nonnegotiables. This would risk shutting down the government for the sake of pleasing abortion opponents.

Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and the Senate are both trying to avoid this. Taking funding away from Planned Parenthood while a Democrat has presidential veto power is what Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky has called an "exercise in futility," The Christian Science Monitor reports.

In 2013, Speaker of the House John Boehner echoed the sentiments of Tea Party Republicans who shut down the government over Obamacare, but he correctly predicted that the government shutdown would backfire on Republicans. He is again working to find alternatives to a shutdown. Bringing the bill to the Senate where Democrats can vote on – but not pass – the legislation might be a compromise, as Democrats could also claim it as a victory that might appeal to younger female voters.

The bill Democrats blocked in the Senate would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks, which is already a law in some states. The issue of abortion has come up with renewed intensity after anti-abortion advocates released videos that showed Planned Parenthood workers discussing the harvesting of fetal tissues for medial research. The Center for Medical Progress, which clandestinely filmed the conversations, says that the videos prove that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of the fetal tissue, which would be illegal under federal law. The reproductive health care organization says that they only collect enough fees to recoup the costs of harvest and transport.

"We in this chamber are never going to agree completely on the abortion question," Senator McConnell said during the debate, according to the Associated Press. "But we should at least be able to agree that if an unborn child has reached the point where he or she can feel pain, that child's life deserves protection."

Democrats and Republicans are both accusing the other party of exploiting an issue that energizes key constituents for political gain.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada called the bill "yet another show vote designed to honor the political wish list of extremists," according to the AP.

Planned Parenthood is a common target for conservative voters. As The Monitor previously noted:

Planned Parenthood receives around one-third of their yearly budget from federal payments, which usually take the form of Medicare payments handling low-income patients. Virtually none of the federal money can be used for abortions. The nearly 700 Planned Parenthood clinics provide sexual disease testing, contraceptives, and abortions.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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