WASHINGTON -- With partisan battling over abortion on the rise, a Democratic senator withdrew a bill Wednesday expanding government fertility services for wounded veterans and blamed what she said was a Republican attack on women's health care. A GOP senator said the changes he was pushing were designed to set priorities for an overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she had expected the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to easily approve her bill on Wednesday. But in a Senate floor speech, Murray said she was withdrawing the measure because Republicans decided "to leap at the opportunity to pander to their base."
She added that Republicans "have turned a bipartisan effort to help wounded veterans into a partisan effort to attack women's health care."
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., author of amendments to the bill, said he wanted to make sure the VA improves existing programs for veterans before Congress burdens it with new duties.
He said one of his amendments would prevent the VA from working with organizations that he said "take aborted babies' organs and sell them."
Tillis cited a report by Congress' nonpartisan Government Accountability Office on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending for family planning and other health programs by six organizations, including Planned Parenthood. In a footnote, that report said the VA had spent $900 on one of the organizations, but it did not say which one had received the money.
Another Tillis amendment would bar the VA from genetically testing embryos it is providing for gender or disabilities. And another would block the department from providing new services -- including those in Murray's bill -- until existing ones are delivered adequately.
"At the heart of our problems, it goes back to the long list of broken promises that sooner or later this Congress has to fulfill for our veterans," Tillis said.
The VA has been rocked by revelations of long waits for veterans seeking medical care and faked records designed to hide those delays.
The Senate fight came as an anti-abortion group has released secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they provide organs from aborted fetuses for research. Those videos have prompted many Republicans to call for an end to federal aid to the organization.
It is legal to provide fetal tissue for research as long as it is not being sold for a profit. Planned Parenthood has said it has broken no laws and the money it accepts for the organs is to recover their costs for the procedures, which the law allows.