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President Obama’s 2016 Budget Draws Praise, Criticism From Women’s Health Advocates

Emily Crockett

Including the Hyde Amendment in the president's budget isn't new. But advocates, and even some members of Congress, are working to make it news.

President Obama’s 2016 budget was praised by women’s health advocates for investing in health and economic security for families, but drew criticism for failing to take a stand on reversing a decades-old abortion funding restriction.

The budget includes a number of ambitious policy proposals that would benefit women and families in particular, and that reflect Democratic messaging about how women’s economic fates affect the entire country.

“The president’s budget contains a strong vision to improve the health and economic wellbeing of our families,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “However, we remain concerned that low-income women and immigrant communities are left behind by many of the proposals.”

The budget triples the current child care tax credit, makes big investments in affordable child care, and expands paid sick and maternity leave. It proposes free community college for two years, and it gives tax breaks to families with two breadwinners. It would fund these policy priorities at the expense of the wealthy, with new taxes on inheritances, large banks, and overseas profits, as well as a higher capital gains tax and a limit on corporate tax deductions.

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But the White House’s budget also neglects one key factor in women’s equality and economic success: affordable access to abortion care.

“It is deeply disappointing to see this nation, year after year, renew the vast financial roadblocks that stand between millions of women in the U.S. and the health care they need,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

The inclusion in the president’s budget of the Hyde Amendment—which has prohibited federal funds from covering abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment since 1976—isn’t new. But advocates, and even some members of Congress, are working to make it news, pointing out that the act discriminates against poor women of color in particular.

The ban includes women covered under Medicaid—who by definition can’t afford to pay for an abortion out of pocket—as well as Native American women, federal employees, women in prisons or immigration detention centers, and women in the District of Columbia.

In a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan late last month, 20 pro-choice House members on the Budget and Appropriations committees called for President Obama to take a bold stance against the Hyde Amendment by not including it in his budget.

The president’s annual budget request to Congress is a statement of policy priorities more than anything else, since Congress can choose to ignore anything it dislikes in the request.

“Withholding coverage for abortion care creates profound hardships for millions of women and families,” the letter reads, pointing to data showing that a woman is three times more likely to fall into poverty if she is denied the abortion care she seeks, and that a majority of women of color live in states that don’t use their own funds to pay for broader Medicaid abortion care.

“Given the continued assaults against women’s personal decision-making—including the ban on insurance coverage for abortion that recently passed the House—it is more important than ever that policymakers, including the President, oppose efforts by politicians to make abortion care more costly and out of reach,” González-Rojas said.

Obama’s budget lifts the ban on Washington, D.C., using its own funds to pay for abortion coverage through Medicaid—which it has year after year despite annual Republican moves to put the ban back into place.

Advocacy groups praised that move, and spoke approvingly of the president’s proposal to increase funding for Title X family planning programs and fund evidence-based teen sex education.

“Thanks to these programs, we have made tremendous progress in public health outcomes as a country,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

The budget calls for $300 million for Title X, the only federal program devoted to helping low-income people access family planning services. That’s a $13.5 million increase over fiscal year 2015, but 2015’s funding level was already low by historical standards.

Family planning has been one of many programs to suffer from the drastic, indiscriminate spending cuts under the federal government’s overwhelmingly unpopular sequestration.

President Obama has no interest in a budget that continues the sequestration cuts, he said Monday, and Congress should work with him to “replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America.”

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