Republican efforts to cut more than $600 million in spending for Planned Parenthood and other health care services for low-income, uninsured women has touched off a political battle on Capitol Hill pitting women’s advocacy groups and Democrats against conservative forces seeking to eliminate funds for abortions and birth control.
House Republicans argued that their proposed $317 million cut in funding for the Title X national family program and $330 million in cuts in Planned Parenthood operations were essential to sharply reducing domestic spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. Those savings were included in a massive spending resolution passed by the House late last month that would cut more than $60 billion of government programs in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.
Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Libertarian Cato Institute, argued that Planned Parenthood could likely make up the loss in public funding with private funding. “Cutting funding from Planned Parenthood would probably have no real impact at all,” he said. “George Soros [the liberal financier and philanthropist] could write one check.”
But Democrats and some health care policy experts warned that deep cuts in spending for family planning health services, cancer screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections could have the unintended consequences of fostering more serious medical problems and emergency hospital care that could more than erase the GOP cost savings.
“House Republicans are saying that these clinics could find funding elsewhere, but in this bill, they are effectively cutting all of the other funding sources you can think of that these clinics could rely upon,” said Adam Sonfield, a senior policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center. He noted that the GOP House-passed bill also includes $1 billion in cuts to community health centers and $50 million in cuts to the Maternal and Child Health bloc grant program.
Moreover, every Title X dollar spent on family planning care saves $3.74 in Medicaid costs for pregnant women and their babies during the first year of care, according to Guttmacher Institute research.
“The idea that people who visit these clinics could just pick up and go to alternative providers who would see them for the same low prices is just not true,” said Len Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University. Title X health centers currently serve about 4.7 million Americans, of which about 60 percent of them use these clinics as a primary source of health care, according to Planned Parenthood. “The scale of what those other community health clinics would have to absorb if you cut Medicaid off would be nearly impossible for them to handle,” he said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Harvard University health economist David Cutler who said cutting these programs is “completely trivial in terms of the federal budget,” and will “lead to more high-cost births and increased uncertainty among women.”
Republican proponents of these cuts make no secret of the fact they want to eliminate federal funding for abortions. Although abortions account for only about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s business, the group is the largest collector of Title X funds to offer abortion services. Contraception accounts for 35 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment for 34 percent, and cancer screening and prevention for 17 percent.
“The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal tax dollars,” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said in a teleconference earlier this week. He said that including these cuts in the overall package would be, “a victory for taxpayers and a victory for life.” He argues that there are plenty of other venues where low-income women can get comprehensive health care services even if Planned Parenthood, which treats about 3 million women per year, isn’t able to provide it.
Though current law says there should be no direct expenditures to abortion services, Pence and his co-sponsors are not convinced. “Even though federal dollars are not used for abortion, they’re used as augmenting revenues to provide a plethora of services which include abortions,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., a co-sponsor of Pence’s amendment. “People in my state are concerned there’s not adequate separation between federal funds and non-federal funds with which are used for non-abortion services versus abortion services within Planned Parenthood.”
The Senate earlier on Wednesday voted down the House – passed measure, as well as a Senate Democratic alternative plan that would slash less than $5 billion from this year’s discretionary budget.
Republicans and Democrats will now probably try to negotiate a compromise to keep the government running beyond a March 18 deadline. Planned Parenthood officials and other advocates for women’s health say they fear the Senate vote today won’t be the final word on health care spending, and that the GOP might try to revive those cuts as part of a compromise spending bill.
“We’re definitely not out of the woods here,” said Tait Sye, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood. “Until this is all resolved, the potential for the Pence provision to be added into the package as a Senate amendment is possible and worrisome.”
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