Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are once again using the appropriations process to target Title X federal family planning services for low-income people.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) touted how the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill would gut what he called a “controversial” federal program. To the contrary, many low-income people in the United States regard Title X as their only means to obtain critical health care, including family planning services, contraception, well-woman visits, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infections screenings, and other preventive services.
Title X grants serve a highly vulnerable population—more than 90 percent women, nearly three-fifths people of color, and mostly uninsured or young, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) 2014 family planning annual report. The grants go to a network of more than 4,100 health and community service agencies. Centers that are funded by Title X are “particularly good” at providing women with the most effective contraceptive methods, like intrauterine devices and implants, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Nevertheless, the draft bill would eliminate $286 million from Title X and another $108 million for federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, according to a spokesperson for Appropriations Committee Democrats.
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Democrats will “raise strong objections” at Thursday’s subcommittee markup of the bill and again at next week’s planned full committee markup, the spokesperson told Rewire in an email.
If precedent holds, their voices will be heard. Republicans unsuccessfully targeted Title X funding in last year’s LHHS funding bill. The latest bid marks the fifth attempt to do so in seven years, according to a statement from the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA). Yet, none of the proposed eliminations have ever been enacted into law, said the spokesperson for Appropriations Committee Democrats.
“Republicans need Democratic votes in Congress and the signature of a Democratic president in order to enact [a]ppropriations law, and Democrats will not vote for bills that contain divisive, poison pill riders and eliminations like this, which target women’s reproductive rights,” he said.
A spokesperson for Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), chair of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill and a vocal reproductive health care foe who recently targeted AmeriCorps’ questionable abortion controversy, did not return Rewire’s request for comment; nor did a spokesperson for Rogers.
Title X funds can’t be used for abortion care. But because about a quarter of the funds go to Planned Parenthood affiliates, anti-choice Republicans have used Title X as a political football for years, starting in 2011 when the GOP threatened a government shutdown over the issue.
NFPRHA cautioned that the proposal could not come at a worse time for the 4.1 million people who depended on Title X funding in 2014, according to the most recent available data from HHS. U.S. Zika cases are on the rise, even as Congress remains deadlocked on a funding plan to address the sexually transmitted virus linked to microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.
“It is particularly foolish to target Title X at a time when the nation is at the precipice of a public health emergency resulting from the Zika virus,” NFPRHA President and CEO Clare Coleman said in the group’s response. “For the House to propose defunding the very provider network that is being called upon to address and control the risk to women who may be seeking to prevent pregnancy is absurd.”