Members Only | February 26, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The GOP’s special Anti-Choice Math

Lindsay Beyerstein explains how the Republicans do abortion politics.

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The House is expected to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package Friday and the Senate will take up the bill in early March. Democrats are racing to send a bill to Joe Biden’s desk before extended unemployment benefits run out in mid-March. 

So far, not a single Congressional Republican has signaled support for the COVID stimulus. The Biden administration is fully prepared to see passage of the massive relief package with no GOP support. And why not? Nearly 80 percent of Americans support Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, including 60 percent of Republicans. 

As usual, Congressional Republicans are more interested in fighting symbolic culture-war battles than in crafting meaningful relief policy for suffering Americans. 

GOP legislators have taken every opportunity to introduce performative anti-choice bills and amendments aimed at COVID relief. These measures have little chance of success in the Democrat-controlled Congress, but they burnish a legislator’s anti-choice cred, which in the 2021 Republican Party, is really what matters. 

Call it homeopathic finance. 

Republicans Sen. Roger Marshall and Rep. Brian Babin introduced companion bills designed to expand the Hyde Amendment to forbid any COVID relief funds being spent on abortion. Hyde bans the use of federal funds for most abortions. 

Sen. Ben Sasse tried unsuccessfully to insert a “born alive” amendment into the budget resolution that serves as the vehicle for COVID relief. Sasse’s amendment would have required doctors to offer medical care to babies born following failed abortion attempts, which is … exactly what current law requires. Nevertheless, Sasse felt this was a good use of legislative time in a crisis. I hope he enjoys the talk-show invites. 

Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted that the American Rescue Plan would allocate $414 billion for elective abortions or abortion-covering insurance. That is a jaw-dropping estimate—$414 billion is about 20 percent of the entire stimulus. Boebert’s spokesman said that she meant that without Hyde Amendment language in the American Rescue Plan, $414 billion dollars of stimulus money could potentially be spent on abortion. He declined to further explain how Boebert arrived at the $414 billion number. 

Suffice it to say, the word “could potentially” is doing a lot of work here. 

The stimulus sets aside $414 billion for direct payments to individuals (the much-anticipated $1,400 checks) and $163 billion for extended unemployment insurance benefits. Americans can spend this money however they want, including on abortions, but these payments would never have been subject to Hyde restrictions anyway.

The stimulus also sets aside $350 billion for state and local governments, some fraction of which abortion opponents warn could potentially be spent on abortion services. But a lot of that cash is flagged for pandemic-related things like vaccine distribution and paying first responders, which have nothing to do with abortion services. Other big line-items with no tie to abortion include $175 billion for childcare, $170 billion for schools, $30 billion for rental insurance, and $3.54 billion for food aid. 

The Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-choice group, offered a more sober estimate of how much COVID relief could potentially be spent on abortion: $750 million for global health activities, unspecified “billions” for community health centers, $50 million for the Title X family planning, allowing Planned Parenthood affiliates to compete for small business loans, and unspecified sums through tweaks to Obamacare and COBRA benefits. Note abortion is only a fraction of the work of these entities. 

You may think these numbers don’t add up, certainly not up to $414 billion, but the Susan B. Anthony List and Rep. Boebert are using special Anti-Choice Math: a program’s entire budget counts as money that could potentially be spent on abortion if a single dollar of that program’s budget could be spent on anything abortion-related.

Call it homeopathic finance. 

This pandemic has hammered abortion access and several states have seized on COVID as an excuse to further restrict a woman’s right to choose. I would be delighted if the American Rescue Plan Act actually rescued Americans from unwanted pregnancies during the greatest economic and health crisis of our time, but I regret to inform you that it does not. The GOP is boxing at shadows. 

It’s sadly typical that Republicans have chosen to spend this historic moment playing semantic games and fanning culture war flames rather than proposing meaningful solutions to help the American people. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist. She’s host of The Breach podcast (for the Rewire News Group) and a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which honors excellence in journalism in service of the common good.

Published in cooperation with Alternet.

Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.

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