NEW YORK (AP) — Anti-abortion leaders are seeking help from the Trump administration as they shift their political strategies now that the U.S. House will be controlled by Democrats who support abortion rights.
Under Republican control, the House tried repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, to halt federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and it passed a bill that would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Democratic-led House that takes office in January is likely to push legislation that would expand access to abortion, even if such measures die in the GOP-controlled Senate.
On Wednesday, representatives of several national anti-abortion groups met with administration staffers at the White House to discuss how President Donald Trump — who has supported their agenda — could continue to be helpful in the changed political circumstances. Among the groups were the National Right to Life Committee, the Susan B. Anthony List and Students for Life of America.
The groups want the Department of Health and Human Services to halt federal funding for medical research that uses fetal tissue. They also want the administration to press ahead with a proposed rule change that would bar recipients of federal family planning grants from sharing physical space and financial resources with abortion providers — a move that could force Planned Parenthood out of the Title X family planning program.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, said she also suggested that Trump veto any budget legislation that would maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood — a move that potentially could lead to budgetary deadlock in Congress.
Planned Parenthood has been in constant conflict with social conservatives for its role as the leading abortion provider in the United States. Its federal funding does not pay for abortions, but helps subsidize a range of other services for some patients, including birth control, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
On Thursday, Planned Parenthood's new president, Dr. Leana Wen, detailed her priorities as she takes over for Cecile Richards, who led the organization since 2006.
Even as it battles to maintain its funding, Wen said the organization intends to grow stronger.
"Too often reproductive health care and women's health care are singled out, stigmatized and attacked," she said in a statement. "We will be expanding our reach by expanding our health care services, expanding our educational presence, expanding our political power."
In an interview, Wen said the expansion — at least in the short term — wouldn't necessarily include the opening of more health centers beyond the more than 600 currently operating. She expects there will be increased use of telemedicine, and possibly an expansion of mental health services and health care for transgender people.
She voiced frustration at the relentless efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
"It's a daily struggle," she said. "It's been hard for us to focus on growth, when we've been focused on keeping our doors open."
Regarding the midterm elections, Wen said she was heartened by numerous state-level victories for abortion-rights supporters, including the Democratic governors-elect in Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
However, Wen acknowledged that the increased Republican majority in the U.S. Senate could make it easier for Trump to win confirmation of nominees to the federal judiciary who are likely to support bans or restrictions on abortion.
Already, with the addition of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, there are expectations on both sides of the abortion debate that the high court could overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.
"We're facing a situation where women's lives are at risk," Wen said. "I hope people see that as we're debating these lifetime nominees."
Hawkins, in contrast, was elated by the GOP's gains in the Senate, which it will control by a 53-47 margin as of January.
"Now we actually have a prolife majority in the Senate," she said. "I expect we can get another Supreme Court nomination in the next year or two years. That's going to be huge."