A coalition of pro-choice groups and members of Congress gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and effectively told Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) where he can put his plan to eliminate all federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
Still, given the Republican majority in the House, the best chance for opponents to derail the GOP proposal will be in the Senate, or if worse comes to worse, with the help of a presidential veto.
Pence has long called for an end to federal spending on the family planning organization, which receives about $360 million a year in taxpayer money from federal, state and local governments. Federal funds cannot be used for abortion, and are earmarked for family planning, cancer screenings and other women’s health services.
A portion of that care falls under the so-called “Title X” provisions of the Public Health Service Act, a law that provides federal funding for family planning — but not abortion, which cannot be paid for with federal money except in very strict circumstances, such as pregnancies resulting from rape. In their zeal to trim federal spending — and, according to women’s rights advocates on the Hill and elsewhere, as part of a plan to eliminate funding for contraception all together — Republicans have eliminated Title X funding from their budget proposal.
When Pence’s anti-Planned Parenthood bill and the Republican Title X plan are put together, it spells bad news for the family planning clinics who rely on government cash to provide services to low-income couples looking to have — or not have — children on their own schedule.
Pence has amped up his attacks on Planned Parenthood following the release of the so-called Lila Rose videos, which purported to catch Planned Parenthood workers willing to help cover up child abuse. The videos have been thoroughly denied by Planned Parenthood, and the FBI was called in by Planned Parenthood during the so-called “sting.” (The FBI was also called by Lila Rose’s group, which claims it caught Planned Parenthood breaking the law.)
So, to summarize: Title X providers are now facing a Republican legislative assault from two fronts. First, there’s Pence’s bill, which targets all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, under any circumstances. Then there’s the GOP budget plan, which would take away government funding for family planning from all clinics, not just those managed by Planned Parenthood.
Even with Planned Parenthood Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of Pence — and the Lila Rose tapes stirring up anti-abortion outrage across the country — Democratic women in Congress and family planning advocates say they’re going to stand their ground and support the group during the Title X fight.
I asked Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who attacked both Pence’s plan to “defund” Planned Parenthood and the GOP plan to end government family planning assistance, if it wouldn’t be easier to have the Title X fight without having to defend Planned Parenthood at the same time.
“[The videos] should have no effect,” she said. “This is about saving women’s lives and providing health care for women.”
Lee said both Republican-led plans constituted a “war on women.”
Two family planning advocates assembled for the press conference led by Planned Parenthood agreed.
“They’re actually after all access,” Rick Baird, President of Pittsburgh-based Adagio Health said in response to a question posed by TPM. “Planned Parenthood is the bogeyman right now, but if it wasn’t Planned Parenthood it would be someone else.”
After the presser, Baird allowed that the Lila Rose videos gave opponents of family planning “an opportunity” to go after family planning providers.
“I don’t know if this would have been an issue if it hadn’t been for them,” he said.
Clare Coleman, President of the National Family Planning And Reproductive Health Association, disagreed. Coleman is a past president of Planned Parenthood whose current job includes representing a broad swath of family planning providers, not just Planned Parenthood clinics.
Like Baird, she said Planned Parenthood is a scapegoat. And she said that the Lila Rose tapes have had no impact on the debate whatsoever.
“Supporters absolutely get that this is political, absolutely understand that this is a systematic effort over time to discredit Planned Parenthood,” she said. “They’re a trusted provider. People get it.”
Coleman said that the goal of Republicans pushing an end Title X is quite simply to eliminate any government role in family planning. That’s a fight she’s ready to have.
“If it gets us an opportunity to talk about the value of family planning care, the value of the Title X program…I welcome it,” she said.