Appropriations Bill Institutes Pro-Life Protections for PEPFAR
The U.S. House reauthorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for one year and placed strong pro-life protections on the funding. It was included as part of the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which passed 216-212. “This critical legislation continues and strengthens PEPFAR for another year,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), “ensuring that critically needed medicines — including anti-retroviral (ARVs) and other life-saving interventions — are available to those who need them in Africa and elsewhere.”
PEPFAR is one the world’s largest foreign aid programs, focusing on treating and preventing AIDS in Africa and other impoverished regions. First passed in 2003 under President Bush, it has enjoyed strong bipartisan support for 20 years because it steered clear of controversial issues like abortion.
“Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s all-of-government push on abortion has undermined PEPFAR’s laudable goal,” Quena Gonzalez, senior director of Government Affairs at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand. “The program has been turned into a slush fund to lobby foreign governments and push other countries to adopt radical, anti-life and anti-family ideologies.”
In September 2022, the Biden administration published a document “Reimagining PEPFAR’s Strategic Direction,” which detailed “plans to push abortion, sexual orientation, and gender identity on other nations with traditional moral values,” Gonzalez said.
With its authorization set to expire by the end of September, conservatives have warned that stronger pro-lifer protections were needed.
African leaders are also concerned. In a June 6 letter, 131 Africans — government officials, faith leaders, and NGO workers — asked congressional leaders to make sure “that PEPFAR remain true to its original mission and respect our norms, traditions, and values.”
“PEPFAR has been reimagined — hijacked — by the Biden administration to empower pro-abortion international non-governmental organizations, deviating from its life-affirming work,” said Smith, who authored the program’s last reauthorization in 2018. “Thankfully, the House has voted to reject Biden’s new PEPFAR abortion promotion strategy.”
But, given the opposition among Senate Democrats and the White House, pro-lifers in Congress understood that they couldn’t add guardrails to PEPFAR in a standalone vote, Gonzalez explained. Instead, they included pro-life guardrails in the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill. “That’s a major win, and the House should fight to keep them in the bill,” said Gonzalez. In the appropriations bill, PEPFAR received a one-year reauthorization — instead of the traditional five.
One of the pro-life guardrails added by the House is the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy (PLGHA), the Trump administration’s expansion of the Mexico City Policy, an executive block on foreign aid dollars funding abortion, which has been adopted by every Republican administration since Reagan and repealed by every Democratic administration.
Pro-life success in the State and Foreign Operations appropriations is only one item in a string of conservative policy victories achieved in fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills. “All 12 appropriations bills have important pro-life and pro-family provisions that push back on the Biden administration’s radical agenda,” said Gonzalez. “These are shaping up to be the most conservative spending bills passed by the House in living memory.”
House Republicans have passed four appropriations bills and continue to work on the remaining eight. After a 45-day continuing resolution, the new deadline to pass a budget is mid-November. If House Republicans succeed in approving all 12 appropriations bills, and the Senate agrees, they will do what no Congress has done since 1996.
But Gonzalez pointed out that passing the appropriations bills aren’t just about following the correct budget process. “For many years, Congress has passed ‘omnibuses’ and ‘minibuses’ each year — huge bills with hundreds of millions of dollars tucked away here and there to fund pet projects and radical ideologies,” he said. “Last year, we identified over $11 million spent on LGBT special interest projects in the end-of-year omnibus that liberals rammed through right before Christmas before Republicans took control of the House.”
“This year, for the first time since 1996, the House of Representatives undertook to pass 12 separate appropriations bills on time, creating a piece-by-piece budget to fund the functions of the federal government and make it easier to target waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Gonzalez. “No wonder it’s been so difficult and spilled over into the 2024 fiscal year.”
Gonzalez stressed that “conservatives have put the power of the purse to good use by slashing bloated budgets, focusing on the core responsibilities of the federal government (like national security and the integrity of our borders), and pushing back against the Biden administration’s radical agenda.” For that, he said, “conservatives on the Hill are to be commended.” He urged voters to “encourage them to follow through and finish the job, rather than wait for a last-minute, backroom deal on another omnibus or set of minibuses.”
House efforts to pass the remaining eight appropriations bill are currently on hold, even while the clock keeps ticking. On Tuesday, all Democrats and eight Republicans voted to remove U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker. No other business can be conducted on the House floor until a majority of the House is able to select a new speaker. In January, the House only selected the speaker after 15 ballots, dragging the process on for days.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.