No abortions, pride flags or transgender assistance: Republicans use spending to block VA policies
House Republicans moved Tuesday to prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from providing abortion services, flying LGBTQ+ pride flags at its facilities, and providing gender-affirming surgeries or hormones to transgender veterans.
The effort, made by GOP lawmakers in the annual VA spending bill, aims to prevent the agency from following policies it considers welcoming to women and LGBTQ+ people. Gay civil rights, transgender healthcare and abortion have all come under increasing attack from right-wing politicians ahead of the 2024 presidential race.
The amendment to the VA business-barring spending bill — approved by a 34-27 party vote in the House Appropriations Committee — takes aim at Biden administration policies that Republicans have spent months arguing about. complain. They promised to roll back the policies when they took a majority in the House earlier this year.
Read Next: Funding for the construction of Space Command Headquarters was halted in the Home Defense Bill
“This is something that should be handled by Congress, not the executive branch,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, sponsor of the amendment and chairman of the VA subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, regarding the abortion policy of the IT GOES.
The language is unlikely to survive negotiations with the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and where an attempt to roll back the VA’s abortion policy already failed earlier this year. But it signals that House Republicans are digging into their longstanding grievances.
In response to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to ban abortions, the VA last year began offering abortions for the first time in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life or health are at risk due to pregnancy. As of February, the VA has provided 34 abortions under the policy, the department told Congress in a letter in March.
VA and Democrat lawmakers argue that the VA’s abortion policy is allowed under a 1996 law that requires the department to provide necessary medical care to veterans.
But Republicans immediately criticized the policy, arguing that it violates a 1992 law that directed the VA to provide reproductive health care except “infertility services, abortions, or pregnancy care,” unless such assistance is necessary to due to a service-related condition.
In addition to banning funding for abortion policy, the amendment passed Tuesday would also add language to the VA spending bill modeled after what is known as the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment is an annual clause included in the Health and Human Services Bill that prohibits the use of funds for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or in which the mother’s life is endangered by pregnancy.
The non-binding report accompanying the bill also calls on the VA to report regularly to Congress on how many abortions it has provided under the policy and how much it cost.
The amendment passed Tuesday also targets some LGBTQ+-focused policies, which Republicans nationwide have increasingly taken aim at. Republican state legislatures have taken particular aim at transgender rights with hundreds of bills introduced this year across the country.
The appropriations amendment would prohibit the VA from providing “surgical procedures or hormonal therapy for the purpose of assisting with gender affirmation.” Not only would that block a yet-to-be-implemented surgery policy announced by the Biden administration two years ago, it would also undo hormone therapy coverage offered by the VA since 2013.
The VA told Military.com last week that it has no timeline to cover gender-affirming surgery for transgender veterans despite saying in 2021 that it will take about two years to implement the policy. The department denied the delay was related to Republican criticism and the growing anti-trans movement.
The House measure would also prohibit the VA from flying any flag “other than the flag of the United States, the flag of a state, territory or district of Columbia, the flag of an Indian tribal government, the flag of the department, the flag of a force army, or the POW/MIA flag.”
While the amendment doesn’t specifically mention the pride flag, it comes after Republicans complained that the VA was flying the rainbow flag in facilities this month, and Appropriations Committee members made clear that the intention of the amendment is to ban that flag.
Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., who said he proposed the language of the flag, said the amendment was necessary to ensure that “the work and message of the VA is not divisive, not controversial, and does not promote a particular gender ideology, but rather it is respect[ful] of our veterans”.
The amendment would also prohibit taking “any discriminatory action” against someone who believes “that marriage is, or should be recognized as, the union of a man and a woman”. And it would block the use of any funding for “diversity, equity and inclusion education or implementation purposes.”
Democrats on Tuesday slammed the amendment as a long list of Republican attacks on “wokeness,” a term conservatives have applied to a range of social policies they disagree with, often focusing on diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“I don’t know if you know this, but simply looking at a pride flag isn’t going to make you gay,” openly joked gay Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who chairs the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.
“But if this is the amendment to be really anti-wake, why stop there? Let’s go full flavor. Let me suggest other things. Why don’t we ban Bud Light? Because I believe drinking Bud Light makes you gay,” he continued, referring to conservatives who are upset that the brewer has hired a transgender TikTok star to promote the drink.
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
Related: No timeline for transvet surgeries, VA says 2 years after coverage was announced
#abortions #pride #flags #transgender #assistance #Republicans #spending #block #policies