On Thursday, Senate Republicans called on Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote to advance legislation that would overturn the rule instated by former President Obama that prevents a state from blocking providers from Title X, the federal family planning program, if they also provide abortion care services.
Without Pence’s vote, Republicans would have been unable to move forward with the bill. This comes the day after yesterday’s panel on women’s empowerment hosted by the White House and President Trump’s own remarks there.
Title X ensures that every person, whether or not they are insured, may access basic, preventive reproductive health care services such as contraception counseling and prescriptions, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and well-woman exams. Over 4 million Americans access these services each year through Title X, many of whom are low-income but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and do not have any kind of health insurance.
The strike against Title X funding for abortion providers today is a strike not only at Planned Parenthood, which Republicans sought to eliminate as a Medicaid and Title X provider through their failed healthcare bill, but also at all providers that are part of the Title X safety net and that also provide abortion care. No federal funding of any kind goes toward abortion or abortion-related services, due to the Hyde Amendment.
“Mike Pence went from yesterday’s forum on empowering women to today leading a group of male politicians in a vote to take away access to birth control and cancer screenings,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement this morning. “There’s a reason they could barely get enough votes to get this bill through a procedural step: People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and they will not stand for it. Four million people depend on the Title X family planning program, and this move by DC politicians would endanger their health care. This would take away birth control access for a woman who wants to plan her family and her future. Too many people still face barriers to health care, especially young people, people of color, those who live in rural areas, and people with low incomes. We will never stop fighting for the right of every person to access the care they need.”
Per Planned Parenthood, to date every court to consider whether a state could block patients from accessing a provider who provides safe, legal abortion care has ruled that states cannot block access to care at Planned Parenthood through the Title X family planning program.
Seventy-five percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, the equivalent of $35,775 a year for a family of four. Planned Parenthood currently serves approximately one-third of the 4 million Americans who utilize Title X despite comprising just 10 percent of the approximately 4000 providers in the program. More than half of Planned Parenthood health centers are in rural and underserved communities.
Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee spoke on the Senate floor just after Pence cast his tie-breaking vote. Murray said, “My colleagues and I came to the floor weeks ago to make clear that this harmful legislation shouldn’t come to the floor. Republicans didn’t listen to us — they didn’t listen to women across the country who made clear that restricting women’s access to the full range of reproductive care is unacceptable.”
Eighty-five percent of the people served by Title X have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and 48 percent are uninsured. In 2015 alone, Title X provided nearly 800,000 Pap tests, 1 million breast exams, nearly 5 million STI tests, and 1 million HIV tests. Six in ten women who access care from a Title X health center consider it their main source of health care. Four in ten women say that their Title X provider is their only source of health care.
When the Obama administration rule protecting abortion providers’ place in Title X network was put into effect last year, it garnered widespread support, with 91 percent of public comments on the rule being in its favor.
And public health experts agree that other providers simply would not be able to fill the gap should Planned Parenthood be dropped from the Title X network. Furthermore, recent research shows that Planned Parenthood health centers are better equipped to deliver high-quality and timely contraceptive care to more patients than other types of Title X providers.
Congress is also preparing to vote on the continuing resolution (CR) needed to provide short-term funding to keep the federal government open and avoid a government shutdown. It still remains unclear as to whether or not language regarding defunding Planned Parenthood — that is, eliminating the reproductive and sexual-health care provider from the Title X and Medicaid programs and being unable to file for reimbursement for services rendered under those programs — will be included. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has urged his Republican colleagues to leave out Planned Parenthood from the CR, and thus lessen the probability of a government shutdown, and instead focus on defunding the organization through the budget reconciliation process, which will be happening later.
Or as Kaylie Hanson Long, national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, summarized in a statement today, “All of this makes the GOP desperation and obsession with taking away reproductive health care crystal clear. This unhealthy obsession is grounded in a need to control women and keep us in ‘our place,’ and no number of ‘women’s empowerment’ events can change that.”