Reproductive Rights

House Moves to Rescind Protection for Women’s Health Centers

This week the House Rules Committee sent legislation to the House floor that would rescind an Obama administration rule, finalized in December, that is meant to block states from cutting off federal funding to organizations that offer abortion care, ensuring that women’s health centers continue to receive Title X funds for other health services including STI/STD testing, cancer screenings and birth control access.

This measure, which is different than Congress’s plan to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements, would give states the option to take away funding from women’s health centers and is set to be voted on today. Neither Medicaid nor Title X funds can be used to pay for abortion services due to the longstanding Hyde Amendment.

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. Many of those who utilize Title X funding make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford birth control and other reproductive health services. Over half of those who accessed healthcare under Title X were 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.

Since 2011, 13 states have restricted access to Title X grants for women’s health centers that offer abortion services. In Texas, 82 women’s health clinics have closed since lawmakers cut family planning funds by 66 percent in 2011. Between 2010 and 2012, the maternal mortality rate in Texas doubled, a spike the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology called hard to explain, “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval.”

In addition to allowing states to block women’s health centers from accessing Title X funding, the House is also working on a measure that would block Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid reimbursements for servicing low-income patients, an amount that currently stands around $500 million per year. Planned Parenthood provides reproductive healthcare to 2.5 million people each year, and estimates that 80 percent of those services are to prevent unintended pregnancy. In over 20 percent of the counties they serve, they are the only women’s health center.

“This is a priority for Republicans,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “So I just would like to speak individually to women across America: this is about respect for you, for your judgement about your personal decisions in terms of your reproductive needs, the size and timing of your family or the rest, not to be determined by the insurance company or by the Republican ideological right-wing caucus in the House of Representatives.”

Last weekend, anti-abortion groups held protests outside of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country to advocate for defunding the healthcare organization. They were met by thousands of abortion rights advocates in 45 states, who oftentimes outnumbered the anti-abortion demonstrators.

Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 12/15/16, 2/15/17, 8/23/16, 1/6/117; USA Today 2/14/17; Center for American Progress 2/9/17; Vox 2/16/17

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