Did ‘Nancy and the Dems’ Try to ‘Slip Taxpayer-Funded Abortion’ into a Coronavirus Aid Bill?

Claim

"Who the hell tries to slip taxpayer funded abortion funding into a #Coronavirus bill? That is just sick Nancy and the Dems"

Rating

Not True

Reporting

On March 12 2020, a Facebook user shared a status update claiming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic Party tried to “slip taxpayer-funded abortions” into a funding package designed to help blunt the worst effects of a global pandemic:

Across a black background, white text read:

Who the hell tries to slip taxpayer funded abortion funding into a #Coronavirus bill? That is just sick Nancy and the Dems

As noted in previous fact-checks, images generated by text-based Facebook status updates remained a pernicious source for the spread of false information. The posts, which are limited to a small number of characters and with no linking functionality, are visually bold statements designed to circulate quickly, regardless of their veracity.

According to this particular rumor, Democrats (led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) attempted to “slip” provisions for “taxpayer funded abortion” into a bill that is designed to fight the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Alas, no contextual information accompanied the claim, making it difficult for users to check whether it was true before sharing.

And share it they did, with more than 44,000 users passing the claim forward as of March 16 2020. A cursory search for similar claims led to a CBN News item headlined, “Report: Pelosi Stalled Coronavirus Aid Bill by Trying to Sneak Abortion Funding Agenda into It”:

According to several White House officials, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to include federal funding for abortion in the coronavirus economic stimulus plan.

In an exclusive story, The Daily Caller reports several officials allege that while Pelosi was negotiating the stimulus package with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, she tried to lobby for “several” provisions which stalled bipartisan guarantees to the measure.

CBN referenced the Daily Caller, whose piece (“EXCLUSIVE: White House Officials Allege Speaker Pelosi Pushed To Include Hyde Amendment Loophole Into Coronavirus Stimulus Plan”) also leaned heavily on its status as a “report,” citing “sources” in the White House:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to include a potential way to guarantee federal funding for abortion into the coronavirus economic stimulus plan, according to multiple senior White House officials.

Speaking to the Daily Caller, those officials alleged that while negotiating the stimulus with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Pelosi tried to lobby for “several” provisions that stalled bipartisan commitment to the effort. One was a mandate for up to $1 billion to reimburse laboratory claims, which White House officials say would set a precedent of health spending without protections outlined in the Hyde Amendment.

The Daily Caller or CBN presumably inspired the sourceless Facebook post, which claimed that Pelosi and Democrats had tried to sneak funding for abortion into an unrelated coronavirus bill. But another top result for “abortion coronavirus bill” was a post on Reddit’s r/politics, featuring a title with inverse claims:

Republicans Are Sneaking Abortion Restrictions into the Coronavirus Bill. Anti-choice lawmakers are stalling emergency legislation. from politics

That r/politics post linked to a Vice.com article, which in turn reported that anti-abortion lawmakers were “stalling emergency legislation” around COVID-19. Just as the Facebook post claimed Pelosi “and the Dems” were trying to “slip” funding for abortions into a coronavirus bill, Vice.com’s report (“Republicans Tried to Sneak Abortion Restrictions into the Coronavirus Bill”) involved “report” or “reportedly,” beginning:

As lawmakers neared a deal on a coronavirus rescue package that would include paid sick leave and free virus testing, a few roadblocks emerged. Among them: Republican attempts to wedge anti-choice restrictions into the House’s relief bill, turning — if momentarily — a public health crisis into an abortion debate.

The tensions reportedly revolved around the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old provision that blocks federal funds from going to abortion services, preventing millions of low-income Americans on Medicaid from accessing abortion care.

[…]

According to conservative media, some top Republicans believed a stipulation in the House bill requiring the government to reimburse private laboratories doing coronavirus testing could effectively overturn the Hyde Amendment by establishing a government funding stream not subject to the restrictions. In response, anti-choice lawmakers insisted on including language in the legislation that would reaffirm the principles of the amendment.

According to the Daily Caller, “White House officials [said testing reimbursement] would set a precedent of health spending without protections outlined in the Hyde Amendment.” Vice.com said “some top Republicans believed a stipulation in the House bill requiring the government to reimburse private laboratories doing coronavirus testing could effectively overturn the Hyde Amendment by establishing a government funding stream not subject to the restrictions.”

Both approaches described Republican concern over whether a portion of the bill involving reimbursement for laboratories — if not otherwise stipulated — would weaken the Hyde Amendment, which explicitly blocks use of federal funds for abortions, by establishing coronavirus-related streams of federal reimbursement not explicitly subject to restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion.

Vice.com linked Vox as its source, which framed its March 12 2020 article as reporting on negotiations involving a coronavirus “economic relief bill,” which had nothing to do with abortion. Describing an announcement from House Democrats on March 11 2020, Vox.com noted that Republicans and Democrats were working on legislation to offset the financial impact of COVID-19 on Americans.

In its fifth paragraph, the article mentioned abortion and the Hyde amendment:

House Democrats released their coronavirus economic relief bill late [on March 11 2020, at] night, as layoffs related to the outbreak were reported. But the timing of when they’ll vote on it is still up in the air nearly 24 hours later.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been negotiating the text of the bill with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin throughout the day on [March 12 2020]. The two had their fifth phone call shortly before 4 pm, her spokesperson said. (This piece will be updated as negotiations on the bill continue.)

The new multibillion-dollar bill contains a number of emergency economic measures designed to assist working people and families dealing with the virus — including free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, and expanded unemployment benefits for those laid off related to the virus. Provisions in the bill expanding food assistance alone would cost $1 billion; a Congressional Budget Office score is expected.

“It will be in the billions, and I won’t go beyond that, but it will be costly,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters of the bill. “But I will tell you this: It will be much more costly if we don’t provide relief.” (For context, the federal government’s discretionary spending was well over $1 trillion last year.)

The impasse between Republicans and Democrats on the bill centers on two things; Republicans don’t like a provision in the relief bill that would establish a permanent paid sick leave program, and Democrats are pushing back on Republicans wanting to add language referencing the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funds being used to pay for abortions.

What is the Hyde Amendment? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF.org), it came into existence shortly after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, and it prohibits public funding from being used on abortion or related services in all but a few circumstances:

Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion has been squarely in the middle of political debates at the national and state levels. Soon after the Court’s ruling, Congress enacted the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funds from being used to pay for abortion outside of the exceptions for rape, incest, or if the pregnancy is determined to endanger the woman’s life, resulting in dramatically limited coverage of abortion under Medicaid and other federal programs.

In Vox’s excerpt above, the words “[Republicans] wanting to add language referencing the Hyde amendment” linked to a March 12 2020 Roll Call item about expected action on the bill the following day (March 13 2020). However, the words “abortion” or “Hyde amendment” did not appear in that reporting:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were nearing agreement on an economic stimulus package to combat the effects of the coronavirus pandemic but weren’t close enough to be ready for a vote [on the night of March 12 2020].

After eight phone calls between the two, and several hours of meetings between Pelosi and top Democratic lawmakers, negotiations were set to continue into [March 12 2020].

It’s fair to say we are close to an agreement subject to the exchange of paper and hope to have an agreement tomorrow,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said late [on March 12 2020].

If a deal is reached [March 13 2020], the House would vote on the package later in the day. But senators left town for the weekend [on the afternoon of March 12 2020] and can’t take a roll call vote on the measure until [March 16 2020] at the earliest. Despite guidance from state and federal health officials to limit travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many senators planned to go back to their states this weekend before returning to the Hill on[March 16 2020].

At the center of the negotiations is a dispute over paid leave provisions in the Democrats’ initial bill. The legislation would require employers to let workers accrue seven days of leave that would apply in future public health emergencies, on top of an immediate 14 days of leave due to coronavirus-related work stoppages.

Republicans have been pressing to use the incentive of tax credits to employers rather than government mandates to make paid emergency and sick leave available to workers, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition they not be identified due to the sensitivity of the talks.

Roll Call’s reporting was in-depth, but it didn’t describe any sort of dispute over abortion or the Hyde Amendment when discussing differences between Republicans and Democrats on the bill. The outlet described provisions sought by Democrats, but didn’t mention taxpayer-funded abortion:

The Democrat-authored aid package would offer, in addition to paid sick leave, expanded food assistance, extended unemployment insurance, free coverage of coronavirus testing and increased federal funding for state and territorial Medicaid costs, among other things.

Over and again in most articles, talks between the parties were described as “sensitive,” and sources for all reporting insisted they not be named. In the same article, a summary of Republican provisions also appeared:

Republicans have been pressing to use the incentive of tax credits to employers rather than government mandates to make paid emergency and sick leave available to workers, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition they not be identified due to the sensitivity of the talks.

On March 13 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported Democrats and Republicans hammered out an agreement on an economic stimulus bill during the coronavirus pandemic. Abortion was not mentioned in that reporting — but it alluded to “some elements” causing a “last-minute hitch”:

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin reached a deal [March 13 2020] on an economic stimulus package to address the coronavirus, providing paid sick leave for workers and pumping billions of dollars to states for food programs and unemployment benefits.

Pelosi announced the agreement [March 13 2020 in the] evening, not long after President Trump trashed it at an afternoon news conference.

“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues late [on March 13 2020].

A few hours later, Trump tweeted his own endorsement. “I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES!” Trump wrote.

The deal hit a last-minute hitch when some Republicans reportedly voiced concerns about some elements.

As of March 16 2020, the bill passed the House and moved to the Senate; neither abortion nor the Hyde Amendment appeared in reporting on the bill’s initial passage in the House and its move to the Senate.

The claim we set out to fact-check held that Democrats and/or Nancy Pelosi attempted “to slip taxpayer funded abortion funding into a Coronavirus bill.” But that’s not what the Daily Caller — presumptively the first source for the claim — actually claimed in their reporting. Partisan outlets, both conservative and liberal, accused both parties respectively of delaying the bill as they haggled over abortion, but those same outlets described the same abortion coronavirus bill scenario in strikingly similar terms. Putting aside the fact all those pieces were predicated on “sources” who refused to be named (thus making the claims unverifiable and indicating an internecine information battleground within the United States government), the Daily Caller didn’t say that Pelosi or Democrats tried to “sneak” or “slip” abortion funding into the coronavirus bill, but instead that that parties had debated whether laboratory reimbursement provisions need explicitly be subject to the Hyde Amendment. One day after the March 12 2020 articles appeared, an agreement was reached and the bill moved on to the Senate.