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House Members Put Reproductive Health Care in Its Place

Rachel Bluth & Kaiser Health News

Much of the male-dominated debate was nominally about where women prefer to seek health care. But the central character was abortion.

The atmosphere at a House Appropriations Committee lunch meeting on women’s health midday Wednesday was predictably charged.

The Trump administration has proposed to defund Planned Parenthood and make severe cuts in other women’s health programs, such as Title X, a 40-year-old program that provides grants for family planning, and grants for teen pregnancy prevention. Congressional Republicans call Title X funding “controversial” and have repeatedly sought to eliminate the program, which serves people with low incomes.

Much of the male-dominated debate—over chili dogs and orange juice—was nominally about where women prefer to seek health care. But the central character was abortion.

Democratic representatives introduced several amendments related to women’s health, including one restoring teen pregnancy prevention grants and another striking language that would allow employers to exclude certain procedures from their health plans if they found them morally objectionable. All of the amendments failed in the Republican-controlled body.

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“No taxpayer dollars should be used to fund abortion, and I’ll fight any effort to dilute or get around that,” declared Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), who prefaced her comments by calling herself “proudly pro-life.”

Federal funds are already prohibited for abortions under the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976.

So the question of where women should be able to obtain health care has become an odd proxy for the abortion issue. According to Planned Parenthood, 60 percent of women who use their clinics consider it their main source for medical attention.

“We see community health centers as a more appropriate provider, and those are funded in the bill,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).

Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) agreed, saying women in his state—home to only one Planned Parenthood clinic—prefer to get their care at community health centers. “When we have an opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood and invest in community health centers, that’s good for West Virginia,” Jenkins said.

But money saved by defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t slated for community health centers, whose funding isn’t changing under the Trump administration’s proposed budget. Some of the community health centers pushed by GOP lawmakers refuse to provide a full range of family planning services, citing religious opposition to contraception.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) pointed out: “We may disagree in terms of a woman’s right to choose abortions, but I hope we can agree that women should be able to make their own health care decisions.”

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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