Freshman members of Congress and others who have been demanding to know the whereabouts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in recent days got their answer on Thursday, as McConnell held a Senate vote not on whether to reopen the government, but on a bill that would restrict abortion rights for low-income women.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (S.109) would have permanently restricted federal funds from going to abortion care, codifying the Hyde Amendment so the Senate doesn't have to pass it—as it has since 1976—in annual appropriations bills. The legislation would have also banned abortion care in federally funded medical facilities and barred healthcare plans subsidized under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from covering abortions.
"Sen. McConnell has scheduled a vote today. No, it's not to reopen the government and begin paying 800,000 federal workers who've gone without pay for 27 days. It's to restrict reproductive health care coverage. Unbelievable." —Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)The Hyde Amendment already disproportionately affects low-income women, many of whom rely on Medicaid for their healthcare costs. Women's rights organizations slammed Senate Republicans including McConnell and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) for pushing the vote on a bill that would further harm marginalized women.
"The consideration of S.109 is politics at its worst. Instead of jeopardizing women's health, it's time for Congress to lift the restrictions on abortion coverage so women can make decisions based on their individual circumstances and health care needs," Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, interim president of the National Abortion Federation, said ahead of the vote. "This bill is just another reminder that while Roe may be the law of the land, it doesn't guarantee women's access to abortion care. Senators must vote no on S. 109."
In addition to objecting to the content of S.109, reproductive rights opponents were appalled that after weeks of refusing to hold a vote on whether to re-open the government, now in the 27th day of the shutdown, McConnell made time for a vote on an extreme anti-choice bill.
"People are hurting and want solutions," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Twittter. "They want the government to open and for this Trump Shutdown to end. Yet Republicans want to vote to effectively ban abortion coverage. This is appalling—and women and men across the country aren't going to stand for it."
.@senatemajldr has scheduled a vote today. No, it’s not to reopen the government and begin paying 800,000 federal workers who’ve gone without pay for 27 days. It’s to restrict reproductive health care coverage. Unbelievable.
Stop attacking women. Open the government.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) January 17, 2019
Today, the Senate will vote on S. 109, a sweeping ban on #abortion coverage. S. 109 would withhold federal insurance coverage of abortion, pushing it out of reach for many.
— National Partnership (@NPWF) January 17, 2019
While 800,000+ federal workers are going without paychecks, partially because of Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold a vote to reopen the government, he’s holding a vote to attempt to eliminate insurance coverage of abortion. This is shameful. #StopS109 https://t.co/bGnEK1D1Qr
— NWLC (@nwlc) January 17, 2019
"If Senator McConnell is able to push through an anti-abortion bill to score political points, he surely should be able to schedule a vote on the House of Representatives bills to reopen the government," said Ragsdale. "I encourage Senator McConnell to focus his time and efforts on ensuring that federal workers are paid for their work rather than on denying people the health care they need."
As McConnell proceeded with the cloture vote, which took place late Thursday afternoon, 800,000 federal workers were still without paychecks, with hundreds of thousands continuing to report to work and many resorting to GoFundMe fundraisers in order to make ends meet.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has been among those posting under the hashtag #WheresMitch this week as McConnell has refused to hold a vote on reopening the government. While the Democratic-led House has passed multiple bills to end the shutdown, McConnell has declined to do the same because the bills don't include funding for the border wall President Donald Trump is demanding and he won't "participate in something that doesn’t lead to an outcome."
However, with Democrats holding the majority of House seats, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion bill had virtually no chance of passing in Congress and becoming law.