Provisions tucked into the fine print of the 880-page bill approved by the Senate Thursday take direct aim at Planned Parenthood, the reproductive healthcare provider and eternal GOP target over its role providing abortions. Those details make it harder for the group to shelter from the economic storm unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already profoundly disrupted the American healthcare system.
The bill makes it much more difficult, if not outright impossible, for Planned Parenthood to access new multi-billion dollar funds aimed at stabilizing the U.S. economy in the midst of the historic downturn, according to experts who spoke with VICE News.
The bill is complex and lengthy, and advocates on both sides of the abortion debate said at first they weren’t entirely sure what was hiding in its pages.
Democrats succeeded in striking one controversial passage from the bill that had seemed tailor-made to keep Planned Parenthood from accessing federally-backed loans. But a team of Republicans led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gave the Trump administration other options for blocking federal funding, according to experts who read the bill as well as Planned Parenthood itself.
Trump’s Small Business Administration will have broad latitude to deny Planned Parenthood access to emergency rescue loans created by the new stimulus package and available to other nonprofits. The bill also includes language that blocks state and local governments from using coronavirus rescue funds from being allocated to cover abortion services.
“Anti-choice activists in Congress and the White House used a pandemic response to target sexual and reproductive health care and its providers,” said Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. “It is wholly disappointing that Congress failed to support the entirety of the nation’s public health infrastructure.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri and diehard abortion opponent, said he’d been assured pro-life forces had emerged victorious from the legislative battle, even though the text of the bill didn’t make that obvious.
“I’m not happy negotiators took out language that excluded Planned Parenthood from receiving government subsidies,” he tweeted. “But I have been assured Planned Parenthood will still NOT be eligible.”
The bill puts the Small Business Authority in charge of overseeing a massive $350 billion lending program aimed at helping a wide variety of small-time operations across the country meet their payroll and pay rent. But it also gives Trump’s SBA leeway to decide that Planned Parenthood doesn’t qualify.
The bill says that nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees can receive loans. But the SBA gets to rule on whether any of the dozens of individual Planned Parenthood affiliates scattered around the country should be counted by themselves or as a whole, according to experts who reviewed the bill.