Senate rejects effort to overturn rule allowing VA abortion coverage in vote bishops call a 'gross failure'
WASHINGTON OSV News – The U.S. Senate April 19 rejected a Congressional Review Act resolution that would have overturned the Department of Veterans Affairs' interim final rule to include abortion in veterans' and their dependents' health benefits.
The rule, implemented by the Biden administration last year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its previous precedent finding abortion access a constitutional right, allows the VA to provide abortion-related counseling, as well as perform some abortions in certain circumstances including a maternal mortality risk, rape or incest. The federal rule is in effect regardless of state law.
President Joe Biden's record on the matter came under fire from some abortion opponents who noted that the U.S. Senate adopted the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, which barred the VA from performing abortions, by unanimous consent when Biden was a senator from Delaware.
The rule came under fire from abortion opponents, but survived a Republican-led effort to overturn it in a 51-48 vote. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted with Democrats to preserve the rule; while Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is Catholic, voted with Republicans to overturn it.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who sponsored the measure seeking to overturn the rule, told reporters at a press conference prior to the vote that "there has been a bipartisan consensus for 40 years that we should not spend taxpayer dollars on abortion."
"Many of the senators complaining about this resolution have voted for the Hyde Amendment," Tuberville said. "Some of them have voted for the Hyde Amendment many times. This is an attack on doctors and nurses who have conscience objections."
Manchin, who co-sponsored the measure in addition to being the lone Democrat in the chamber to vote in favor of overturning the rule, said in a statement the VA's current policy was "a blatant violation of federal law."
"Since 1976, there has been bipartisan consensus on the Hyde Amendment because most Americans agree that we should not be using taxpayer dollars to provide abortion services," Manchin said. "This rule exceeds the VA's statutory authority and is another example of the Biden Administration's growing pattern of prioritizing a political agenda over Constitutional processes."
The Hyde Amendment first became law in 1976 to prohibit federal funds from being used to cover abortion or fund health plans that cover abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered. It was reenacted in spending bills every year since it was first passed until July 28, 2021 when the House passed a package of spending bills without it.
"I always have and always will fight to maintain the commonsense protections we've had in place for decades to ensure federal tax dollars cannot be used to fund abortions," Manchin said.
In a joint statement, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said it is "a gross failure that the Senate did not pass this lifesaving resolution."
"Our heroes and their dependents deserve quality health care services, instead of policies to end the lives of their own children," the bishops said. "Many veterans face tremendous life challenges, especially as the active duty experience too often involves significant mental health traumas and can be followed by a difficult readjustment to civilian life. It is inhumane to provide fully taxpayer-funded abortion (which itself can increase mental health risks) as a so-called solution to pregnancy, instead of resources needed to welcome a child and flourish as a family."
The bishops said they will "continue to urge Congress to prevent implementation of this harmful policy, and to provide instead real support for our military veterans and their loved ones."
Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon.