Last night, the House of Representatives spent nearly three hours debating Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-IN) amendment to strip $327 million from Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, raising concerns from some Democrats that the measure may be unconstitutional. Pence’s measure would specifically bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any Title X funds, even though the Republican continuing resolution (CR) would eliminate the entire Title X program.
Democrats argued that defunding Planned Parenthood would significantly hamper access to health care for lower-income Americans who depend on the organization for primary care services and insisted that the existing prohibitions against abortion funding already ensure that that taxpayer dollars don’t pay for abortions. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) went a step further, arguing that the amendment was unconstitutional and would be struck down by the courts. He quoted from the Constitution “in making his point that the Pence amendment would amount to a ‘bill of attainder’ because it would seek to punish Planned Parenthood for conducting activities that supporters of the measure disapprove of”:
NADLER: A bill that punishes someone, some person or organization, who is named or easily identifiable by legislative action is called a bill of attainder. That’s the definition of a bill of attainder. A legislative enacted penalty, in this case no funding, directed at an identifiable person or organization to punish them for something. Article I Section 9 says “no bill of attainder or ex post facto should be passed.” Fundamental foundation of constitutional law. If Planned Parenthood or anyone else is doing terrible things and ought to be punished, that’s up to the courts. [...]
I challenge anyone to say how this isn’t’ a bill of attainder. The definition of a bill of attainder is a legislative enacted penalty aimed at some person or organization that’s identifiable, named right here, for some reason, that they’ve done various things fund abortions, done illegal things or otherwise. So in addition to all these other problems, this amendment is unconstitutional and will be struck down by the courts if it should pass.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) tried to pushed back against Nadler’s “bill of attainder” argument, before launching into a tirade against the phantom federal abortion funding for Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act (neither of which spend federal funds on abortion services).
The House passed Pence’s amendment in a vote of 240-185. Seven Republicans voted against it, 10 Democrats supported the measure.