(Recasts with final vote, adds background on issue, comment by
Planned Parenthood official)
By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON, March 30 Vice President Mike Pence
took the rare step of breaking a tie in the U.S. Senate on
Thursday, casting the deciding vote to roll back protections for
reproductive health funds.
Using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers
to repeal recently minted regulations, senators killed a rule
intended to keep federal grants flowing to clinics that provide
contraception and other services in states that want to block
The rule was enacted in the final weeks of former President
Barack Obama's administration, giving lawmakers the opening to
nullify it under the review law.
In recent years states such as Texas have kept some
healthcare providers from receiving the grants as part of the
country's longstanding fight over abortion.
It was the second time on Thursday that Pence used his role
as the chamber's president to end a deadlock. He was called to
the capitol earlier to carry the resolution through a procedural
Saying the rule usurps states' rights, Republicans argued
local lawmakers should decide how healthcare money is
Their main concern is that federal money is being used to
provide abortions, although the grants are specifically barred
from funding those procedures. Republicans, including President
Donald Trump, generally oppose abortion.
"This regulation is an unnecessary restriction on states
that know their residents’ own needs best," said Republican
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Democrats said the resolution was an attack on women's
health, contending the rollback will make it harder for
low-income and rural women to obtain screenings for cancer and
other diseases, as well as contraception.
Most resolutions killing recent Obama-era regulations have
sailed through the Republican-controlled Congress. They need to
win only simple majorities in both chambers to go to the
president for signing.
The congressional review law was used only once successfully
until this year. The family-planning resolution marked the 13th
time it has been deployed effectively since the beginning of
February, as well as the first time a resolution has come within
a hair's breadth of failing.
"Republicans didn't listen to us," said Senator Patty Murray
of Washington, the senior Democrat on the health committee.
"They didn't listen to women across the country who made it
clear that restricting women's access to the full range of
reproductive care is unacceptable."
The nonprofit Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions
and many other health and contraception services, receives some
of the federal funding.
Noting the recent collapse of the Republican healthcare bill
in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dawn Laguens, executive
vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said
Thursday's votes were close because "people are sick and tired
of politicians making it even harder for them to access
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)