Earlier this year, Congress was set to vote on a bill to fund anti-Zika efforts. Everyone agreed that the funding was needed. Yet anti-reproductive rights legislators stalled the bill’s passage by refusing to allow any of the funds to prevent Zika to go to Planned Parenthood. The battle continues to this day.
Fed up — like many of us! — with ongoing efforts by anti-reproductive rights legislators to use Planned Parenthood as a pawn in their political game, President Obama, in his final months in office, is taking action. Last week, he proposed a new rule that would effectively bar states from defunding Planned Parenthood or any other Title X family planning provider for purely political reasons.
Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to family planning and reproductive health services for low-income people. The Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS) provides grant funding for nearly 4,200 family planning clinics throughout the country to provide low-cost or free contraceptive services, counseling and other pregnancy and STI preventive services. The program does not and never has funded abortion care.
The proposed rule specifically states that funding for any Title X family planning provider cannot be withheld for any reasons other than a provider’s “ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” To be clear: this means anti-abortion rights legislators cannot vote to withhold funding for Planned Parenthood simply because they also provide abortions.
Anti-reproductive rights lawmakers have a history of using Planned Parenthood as a stand-in for their political opposition to legal abortion services. Yet only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion related. The group is one of the largest providers of affordable family planning services, ensuring that 1.5 million people have access to birth control every year. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole provider of family planning services for low-income women and communities of color. Across the country, 4 million people rely on Title X providers.
When politicians successfully restrict Title X funding, low-income Americans are left without access to needed health care including cancer and STI screenings. According to the Department of Health and Human Services notice of proposed rule making for this new rule:
For example, in 2011, Texas reduced its contribution to family planning services, and also re-competed subawards of Title X funds using a tiered approach. The combination of these actions decreased the Title X provider network from 48 to 36 providers, and the number of Title X clients served was reduced dramatically…the number of Title X clients served decreased from 259,606 in 2011 to 166,538 in 2015.
Politicians have tried to reduce or bar state funding for Title X family planning providers in other states as well. According to ThinkProgress, since 2011, seven states have passed laws making it harder for Planned Parenthood to receive Title X funding. Most recently, in Florida, a federal judge shot down a law that would have defunded two Planned Parenthood health centers in the state. In one county alone, 1,820 clients are served by the family planning provider that would have been excluded, and there was no agreed upon plan for how those clients’ needs would have been met.
When politicians play games with funding for Planned Parenthood health centers or other Title X providers based on politics, it’s women who suffer the most. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 6 in 10 women who access care from a family planning health center consider it their main source of health care. For 4 in 10, it’s their only source of care.
Title X services have a “dramatic effect” on the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States, helping to prevent approximately 1 million unintended pregnancies in 2010. The Title X program also contributes to reducing maternal mortality rates, and premature births.
In one of his last moves in a long line of supportive moves on behalf of Planned Parenthood and women’s health, President Obama is working hard to protect necessary access to affordable reproductive and sexual health care. DSHS is currently accepting comments until October 7, 2016 on the proposed rule. They will then decide whether to issue a final version. If you’d like to show your support for Planned Parenthood, add your name to this letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.
In a statement, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said,
This will make a real difference in so many people’s lives. The Obama Administration is protecting access to health care for millions of people. Women in nearly half the states in this country have faced political attacks on cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic care. This rule makes it clear that politicians cannot ignore the law as they pursue their agenda to stop women from getting the care they need.