WASHINGTON ― The Obama administration has proposed a new rule that would prevent states from defunding Planned Parenthood or any other family planning provider for political reasons.
The new rule, which the Department of Health and Human Services proposed last week, says that states cannot withhold Title X federal family planning money from certain recipients for any reason other than the provider’s “ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” That means states can no longer vote to defund Planned Parenthood because some of its clinics offer abortion services.
“This will make a real difference in so many people’s lives,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “Thanks to the Obama administration, women will still be able to access the birth control they need to plan their families, and the cancer screenings they need to stay healthy.”
The Title X program provides basic preventive health care and family planning services for 4 million low-income Americans. About 85 percent of patients who use Title X have incomes below $23,500. Planned Parenthood serves about a third of those patients, using the $70 million a year it receives in Title X grants to subsidize contraceptives and cancer and sexually transmitted infection screenings for people who can’t afford them. Title X does not allow any money to be used to pay for abortions for any reason.
Still, politicians in 11 states have voted to block public funds from Planned Parenthood because its services include abortion. Republicans in Congress are also on a mission to defund the family planning provider, citing a series of debunked undercover videos produced by anti-abortion activists that purport to show Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts.
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), a member of the House select committee that’s investigating the video’s claims, called the Obama administration’s new rule to protect Planned Parenthood a “stunt.”
“We must use the full force of Congress and the grassroots strength of the national pro-life movement to defeat this absurd rule and prevent the Obama Administration from acting unilaterally to carry out political favors and prop up a scandal-ridden abortion provider,” she said in a statement.
The political problem for Republicans right now in their endeavor to demonize and defund Planned Parenthood is that family planning providers are on the front lines in the fight against Zika, the rapidly spreading virus that causes severe birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control said the “primary strategy” to reduce Zika-related pregnancy complications should be to help women avoid or delay pregnancy through family planning and birth control, and Planned Parenthood is already distributing Zika prevention kits and education in neighborhoods where the virus is spreading. But some of the most high-risk states for the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus ― Florida, Louisiana and Texas ― have voted to block funds to Planned Parenthood. About 84 pregnant women in Florida are currently infected with Zika, officials have said.
If the new Title X rule becomes permanent after a 30-day public comment period, which is likely, those states will be forced to back down from the fight against the nation’s largest family planning provider.
“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,” Richards said.