On Thursday the Senate, using the Congressional Review Act, repealed a rule put in place by the Obama administration in December that blocked states from cutting off Title X funding to women’s health clinics that provide abortion services. The bill was already passed in the House of Representatives in February.
After Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) voted with the Democrats against advancing the repeal bill, Vice President Mike Pence was rushed to Capitol Hill to break the 50-50 tie vote. Collins and Murkowski were also the two Republican Senators who voted against the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, also requiring Pence’s tie-breaking vote.
“We’re talking about federal family planning funds and I don’t think that those funds should be subjected to state restrictions,” said Collins to POLITICO. “It’s important to recognize that there is already a bar against using federal funds for abortion and that bar stays in effect.”
Title X of the Public Health Services Act is the only federal domestic program that is exclusively concerned with providing funds for family planning and reproductive health services. Title X funding is awarded through competitive grants to whichever healthcare providers prove they are best qualified for meeting the needs of the communities they serve.
In 2015, over 4 million people received healthcare from over 3,900 facilities funded under Title X, a third of which were Planned Parenthood clinics. Typically beneficiaries of Title X funding are teens and adults who have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but too little income to afford health insurance through the marketplace. Over half of those who access healthcare through Title X are women of color.
According to the Center for American Progress, women’s health centers that receive money from Title X prevent 1 million unintended pregnancies each year that would have resulted in 501,000 unplanned births and 345,000 abortions.
By passing today’s measure, the Senate is once again opening the doors to allow states to bar women’s healthcare providers from funds that pay for STI/STD treatments and birth control, not because they are unqualified providers, but because they also happen to offer abortion services through non-governmental funding.
Since 2011, 13 states have passed legislation restricting clinics that offer abortion services from accessing Title X funds. Earlier this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have specifically cut off Title X funding to organizations that perform abortions.
Last week, House Republicans abandoned their plan to vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would have forced millions off of Medicaid and out of the insurance marketplace, presumably increasing patients’ dependence on Title X. Though they failed to accumulate enough “Yay” votes, House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised to continue to push for healthcare reform in 2017, causing many progressive advocates to fear that Republicans could reintroduce a similar bill to the AHCA.
Media Resources: POLITICO 3/30/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/16/17, 2/23/17, 3/28/17