Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 27, 2019
Before leaving for the summit, President Trump picked another fight over abortion, with the adoption of a rule to effectively stop payment of any federal aid to Planned Parenthood and others who offer abortions, even for health services apart from abortion. The rule was announced late Friday, and without doubt will end up in court.
This time, the ruling affects Title X federal funding — family planning money affecting 4 million lower-income women.
As we know, it is already federal law to halt any payments for abortions. This is just one more slice of what’s left to fund women’s general health organizations that also offer uncovered abortions. Indeed, some of the tens of millions of dollars involved will end up going to anti-abortion, faith-based providers.
Democrats in the House were immediately resolved to overturn the decision, and the organizations themselves were promising court actions.
Politico and others quoted Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, who leads the House health care appropriations subcommittees: “I am committed to fighting the implementation of this rule.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who chairs the contraception and family planning task force of the House Pro Choice Caucus, added, “We’re in the majority now and we have a lot of people in key positions. We’re going to interject ourselves into the appropriations process.”
The move is one in a series that will put abortion on the 2020 presidential agenda.
While House Democrats publicly aspire to “systemically” reverse many abortion restrictions on the books, they say they’ll mainly focus on preventing Republicans from imposing new ones.
“Stopping things is going to be the priority,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We have lived through two years of constant attacks on so many aspects of women’s health and economic security — on Planned Parenthood, Title X, the [Affordable Care Act]. Now that we have a Democratic House, we have a much better break on it.”
The Trump administration is in better stead before the court on this Title X rule than on other aspects of abortion since the Supreme Court upheld similar funding restrictions in 1991. That ruling was never enacted because the Clinton administration rescinded them the following year.
While federal law bars funding for abortion, except in limited cases, abortion providers have long received Title X funds for other services, like contraception.
House Democrats could try to redirect Title X funds to Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics through an annual appropriations bill, but the Republican majority in the Senate has signaled they will reject those efforts and President Trump has already vowed a veto.
Just how far Democrats will go is questionable.
Just stopping more abortion law deterioration falls short of the sweeping overhaul of abortion rights that the Democratic Party’s most progressive members promised in their health care-centric fight to take back the House in 2018. Still, lawmakers insist they’ll explore all the legislative tools now available to them — including hearings and subpoenas — to push back against not just the Title X rule but any legislation or policy rider that would impose new abortion restrictions.
The political stakes are just as high for Republicans, who during the last two years failed to fulfill their base’s demands to defund Planned Parenthood, pass a 20-week abortion ban or significantly curtail abortion rights, despite having full control of Washington.
Republicans were just as boastful in the opposite direction. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said, “President Trump answered calls from my Senate Republican colleagues and me by taking steps to block federal family planning funds from organizations that make abortion referrals or use the same facilities as abortion clinics, such as Planned Parenthood.” they hope to go much further. Sen. Joni Ernst ,R-IA, called the rule a “significant step forward” but said she will continue to push for her bill that would strip Planned Parenthood of all of its federal funding.
Abortion rights supporters say the rule stripping funds to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers threatens contraceptive and other women’s health services for millions of low-income women. Most of Planned Parenthood’s government funding, which comes from Medicaid and other programs, will not be affected by this rule.
Given split control of Washington, some Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights advocates say their best option for fighting back is rigorous oversight.
In a letter last week, top House and Senate Democrats alleged that HHS rushed through the Title X rule without conducting required analyses about its impact. The committee leaders are demanding HHS provide any communications the department had with outside groups about the rule.
In recent months, the Trump administration has shifted the direction of federal health programs in a conservative direction. The administration has expanded the ability of employers to claim religious or moral objections to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they offer employees insurance coverage for contraception. It has channeled funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs and family planning grants into programs that emphasize sexual abstinence over contraception. And the president has repeatedly attacked governors in New York and Virginia for bills to allow more late-term abortions.