The resolution overturns a Health and Human Services rule enacted by the Obama administration last year that prevents states from defunding Planned Parenthood or other health providers for any reason other than the provider’s lack of “ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.”
Now, states can withhold federal family planning grants from providers because they offer abortion, even though the longstanding Hyde Amendment prevents any federal money from being used to pay for abortion.
The Senate narrowly passed the resolution at the end of March after Vice President Mike Pence was summoned to break a tie vote. Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), broke with their party and opposed the measure.
“If you’re serious about trying to reduce the number of abortions,” Collins said after the vote, “the best way to do that is to make family planning more widely available.”
The Title X federal family planning program, established by President Richard Nixon in 1970, subsidizes contraception, Pap smears and other preventative health care services for 4 million low-income Americans, roughly half of whom are uninsured. Planned Parenthood uses the $70 million it receives in Title X grants a year to serve 1.5 million patients ― about one-third of the patients in the program.
No Title X money can be used for abortion ― women who seek the procedure at Planned Parenthood must pay out of pocket ― but most Republicans are still opposed to granting public dollars to the organization.
“Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the abortion industry in this country,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), the sponsors of the House and Senate resolutions, wrote in a joint op-ed for the Washington Examiner. “Nor should they be forced to foot the bill for an organization like Planned Parenthood that has displayed such blatant disregard for human life.”
Trump’s attitude toward Planned Parenthood is a bit more complicated. His daughter, Ivanka, reportedly supports the organization, and he expressed conflicting views about it during his presidential campaign. “I would defund it because I’m pro-life,” Trump said during a CNN debate in February 2016, “but millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.”
More recently, the president offered Planned Parenthood a deal: The organization could keep the $550 million a year it receives in federal funding if it stops doing abortions. The nation’s largest family planning provider, of course, declined the offer. “We would never abandon the women who count on us in exchange for cash,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told The New York Times in an interview.
While Republicans in Congress did not manage to pass the health care bill that would have fully defunded Planned Parenthood, overturning the Title X rule will dent the provider’s ability to serve patients living below the poverty line. The move is not likely to sit well with voters, 3 in 4 of whom support public funding to Planned Parenthood.
“There’s a reason they could barely get enough votes to get this bill through a procedural step,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president at Planned Parenthood. “People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and they will not stand for it.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.