Politics Reproductive Rights

Senate Democrats Skeptical of Health and Human Services Nominee

Senate Democrats are skeptical of the Trump administration’s selection for assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and are requesting a full Senate vote on his nomination when the body reconvenes in September. The Senate did confirm four other HHS nominations last week without issue.

During Texas doctor Brett Giroir’s testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he failed to defend the right of all qualified reproductive health providers to receive federal funding.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) put out a statement that read, “After carefully reviewing his qualifications, I am unconvinced Dr. Giroir would be willing to stand up to this administration’s ideological attacks on women in a key leadership role at HHS.”

If confirmed Giroir would oversee HHS’s Office of Population Affairs, which handles Title X grant funding, the only federal domestic program that is exclusively concerned with providing funds for family planning and reproductive health services. 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 are teens and adults who have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but too little income to afford health insurance through the marketplace.

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 In April, President Trump signed a bill that repealed a rule put in place by the Obama administration last year that blocked states from cutting off Title X funding to women’s health clinics that provide abortion services.

Giroir would also be responsible for the Office of Adolescent Health, which is charged with running the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. Last month, the Trump administration announced a plan to cut $213.6 million in funding to over eighty teen pregnancy research and prevention programs around the country. The programs focus on developing practical, evidence-based methods to decrease teen pregnancy and helping teens access contraception, reproductive healthcare and comprehensive sexual education. The loss of federal funds means researchers will have to stop their projects before their five-year research grants are up, rendering their data scientifically invalid. Over 25 percent of women will become pregnant by the time they are 20.

HHS has already put in place several troubling figures who did not require Senate confirmation including Charmaine Yoest, former president of Americans United for Life, Valerie Huber, who lead a group formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, and Teresa Manning, previously a lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee.

Current HHS Secretary Tom Price has consistently supported an anti-woman health agenda. As a Congressman, Price co-sponsored legislation that would make some forms of birth control illegal, introduced multiple 20-week abortion bans, and voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood. During his confirmation hearing for HHS Secretary, Price refused to accept Congressional Budget Office data showing that in one year 400,000 women would lose access to all healthcare if Planned Parenthood were defunded.

Media Resources: Rewire 8/10/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 3/31/17, 8/1/17, 1/25/17.

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