As the Zika epidemic threatens pregnant women throughout the Americas, House Republicans released a funding proposal on Wednesday that would eliminate a federal grant that helps low-income women and men pay for birth control and other family planning services.
Established over 45 years ago, the Title X Family Planning program provides low-cost sexual health services to about 4.1 million patients and prevents about 1 million unplanned pregnancies each year.
The House Appropriations Committee proposed cutting the program in its draft Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies funding bill for fiscal year 2017. This is the fifth time Republicans have attempted to scrap Title X.
The GOP proposal would also cut $108 million in teen pregnancy prevention grants.
The funding bill allocates $390 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight the Zika virus, but women’s health advocates warn that it’s bad public health policy to try to eliminate contraception funding with the Zika crisis looming. Zika, a mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus, has been linked to severe birth defects that leave babies with malformed brains and abnormally small heads.
“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,” said Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. “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.”
Republicans in Congress dislike the Title X program because some of its grants go to Planned Parenthood clinics that also provide abortions.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) did not comment on the program specifically on Wednesday, but said the goal of the funding bill is to “reduc[e] discretionary spending by more than half a billion dollars, all the while prioritizing funding where it is needed the most.”
“It follows the responsible lead of the legislation before it ― investing in proven, effective programs, rolling back over‑regulation and overreach by the Administration that kills American jobs, and cutting spending to save hard‑earned taxpayer dollars,” Rogers said in a statement.
The House passed a funding proposal for Zika last month that also limits access to contraception, despite the CDC’s specific request for money to help distribute birth control and condoms to people in Zika-affected areas.
Meanwhile, in the last year alone, 24 states have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and similar providers. Many of the states expected to be most intensely hit by Zika as increasing temperatures make them more mosquito-friendly are the same places where state lawmakers have slashed family planning services, chipped away at safe and legal abortion and declined to expand Medicaid coverage.
“Politicians who want to eliminate these vital services are working against a solution, and are part of the problem,” said Dana Singiser, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. “Today’s budget bill is shameful and exposes the Republican leadership’s targeted agenda against family planning providers like Planned Parenthood, despite their absolutely critical role in limiting the damaging effects of Zika virus and continuing to provide access to reproductive health services for those most in need.”