WASHINGTON - One of the side issues in the federal budget battle could sink any deal to prevent a government shutdown.
Abortion provider Planned Parenthood gets more than $360 million a year in federal funds and many pro-life lawmakers want to cut that off. But pro-choice leaders in Congress say no way.
At a pro-choice rally Thursday, attendees, most adorned in pink t-shirts, came to applaud, chant, and roar their approval for one of the most controversial groups these days when it comes to taxpayer funding.
Republicans, led by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., have been pushing hard to defund Planned Parenthood, after controversial undercover videos revealed apparent support from the group for illicit activities.
They say there's no way the nation's biggest abortion provider should get even one taxpayer dollar.
But those at the pro-choice rally Thursday said this fight isn't about abortion, but women's rights and women's health.
"Eighty-three percent of what Planned Parenthood does has to do with women's reproductive health and has to do with really uncontroversial sorts of health care that's provided to women across the nation," said Rev. Bill Levering, with First Reformed Church in Schenectady, N.Y.
"So I believe that Congress should increase funding to Planned Parenthood," he said. Levering has no problem being both a man of the cloth and a pro-choice supporter.
"I think it's especially important for people of faith to make sure that the legislature knows not every Christian is opposed to women's rights across a broad range," he said.
But on the other side of the life issue is the Rev. Pat Mahoney, with the Christian Defense Coalition, who campaigned just a few blocks away to cut off Planned Parenthood's tax dollars.
His main point: Planned Parenthood is committing a form of genocide against blacks, saying the organization's founder, Margaret Sanger, was a racist who several times addressed Ku Klux Klan rallies.
"(They) encouraged Klan support; called for the elimination of the quote-unquote 'Negro population,'' Mahoney said. "And so we're here saying not one penny of our tax dollars, in any situation, but in these difficult times should go to an organization whose founder was a racist and a bigot."
At the Planned Parenthood rally, one doctor seethed over efforts like Mahoney's to deny funding to the abortion provider.
"It's purely ideological. It doesn't make any fiscal sense," Dr. Laurel DeMaula, from Schwenksville, Pa., said. "They're hiding behind fiscal, but every dollar you spend on Planned Parenthood saves the government four dollars."
Still, pro-choice advocates don't appear to have any real worries Planned Parenthood will get cut off from federal dollars. Democrats in leadership on Capitol Hill have said they'll fight to the end to keep those funds flowing.