Obama fights to keep women’s health clinics funded before Trump takes office
Over the past couple of years, a handful of conservative state governments attempted to outright defund Planned Parenthood clinics in their states after the Center for Medical Progress released illegally obtained and highly edited footage portraying Planned Parenthood’s donations of fetal tissue to promote scientific research as “selling baby parts.” What followed were numerous costly congressional witch hunts and a rise in violent retaliation directed at clinics, but the ultimate consequence was states defunding the women’s health organization. Which is what makes a new measure by the Obama administration to protect women’s health clinics (regardless of whether or not they offer abortion) from being defunded by states all the more important.
The rule, which goes into effect on Jan. 18 (just two days prior to the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump), would ban states from withholding Title X federal family-planning money from health clinics that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood. It’s all the more critical with the election of the rabidly anti-choice Trump-Pence administration and a Republican Congress in the best position in recent history to defund Planned Parenthood after years of vilifying it for offering abortion, among countless other crucial health services, to its millions of low-income patients. Obama got this measure in just in time.
Title X grants are funneled directly to states, and state governments are charged with allocating the funding to nongovernmental organizations. The Obama administration first proposed this rule in September, stating that legislators cannot exclude a provider as a potential recipient for reasons “other than its ability to provide Title X services,” which include reproductive health services like birth control, pap smears, breast exams, STD tests, and basic infertility services, all of which must be available to low-income individuals and those without health insurance.
There’s no shortage of irony in how Republican attacks against Planned Parenthood and women’s health clinics in general are all rooted in their disdain for abortion, and yet, in providing contraception and sexual health education, these women’s health organizations do more than any anti-choice group ever could to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion. It’s also worth noting that organizations like Planned Parenthood aren’t even using funding from the federal government to fund abortion services, as this is barred by the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal money from paying for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save a woman’s life.
The Hyde Amendment is the very product of stigma against abortion that likens the procedure with murder, and prioritizes the human rights and autonomy of low-income women who can’t afford the procedure beneath the religious ideologies of some. The law is a real slap in the face to all the anti-war folks who actually care about the plights of born, living humans, but have had to watch their tax dollars fund military interventionism.
At any rate, while this new measure by the Obama administration won’t change the fact that federal funds can’t go toward abortion, by protecting access to contraception for poor women and families in conservative states, at the very least, this rule will help mitigate the need for abortion. That being said, it will obviously face challenges come 2017.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence notoriously defunded Planned Parenthood in his state, which led to clinics that did not even offer abortion shutting down and, as a result of limited access to STD testing, led to an HIV outbreak in one county. Pence additionally directed funding meant for low-income families to fund anti-choice organizations. Tom Price, Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, also has a record of opposing reproductive choice, and while Trump himself has offered mixed comments on Planned Parenthood, in February he expressed support for defunding it, you know, just a month or so before suggesting women who receive abortions should be punished (as if that isn’t already happening).
Lawyers from the Health and Human Services Department recently told The New York Times that the repeal of this measure would require a joint resolution of disapproval by the House and Senate and disapproval by the president. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be too difficult considering even Republicans who identify as moderate disdain funding for reproductive health services, despite the simple fact that Title X offers everyone the right to this. Additionally, on a federal level, a budget reconciliation process, which can’t be filibustered by Democrats and requires only a simple majority to pass, could strip the organization of funding, and unlike Obama, a President Trump probably wouldn’t veto that.
But, this latest measure by the Obama administration offers a nod to all women and reproductive rights advocates whom Obama has sided with and stood by every step of the way throughout his two terms, and serves as his last stand to protect access to women’s health. The measure serves to protect critically important resources and services for women and families. Just as Republicans will likely do everything they can to scrap it, you can bet pro-choice advocates will do everything they can to protect it.