Last Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote on a bill which will allow states to withhold federal family planning money from Planned Parenthood and other organizations which provide abortions. The controversial legislation was opposed by all Senate Democrats, as well as two Republicans: Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Because Republicans only hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, the Vice President was required to break the tie.
What Will the New Legislation Do?
The Congressional Review Act allows a new Congress to repeal actions of the old Congress early in the year. In this case, the new Congress is repealing an Obama administration rule that banned states from blocking federal family planning grants to Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that offer abortion. Federal family planning money, known as Title X, is used to cover services such as contraception, STD screenings, and cancer screenings.
One thing that’s important to remember is that the Hyde Amendment already bans Title X money from being used for abortions. So even though some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions, no federal money is used for these purposes. This new legislation will weaken Planned Parenthood’s functionality by taking away money the organization uses for a variety of services, such as health care services and contraception.
An Old Debate, Revisited
Defunding Planned Parenthood has long been a Republican goal. According to Republicans, this latest legislation will give states more freedom to decide how to spend their Title X money. States will now be able to divert money from organizations that provide abortions, like Planned Parenthood, to those that don’t.
Democrats argue, however, that the Title X money going to Planned Parenthood is not used for abortions. Rather, federal funding allows the organization to provide birth control and health care such as screenings for cancer and other diseases, as well as STD prevention. Planned Parenthood also provides educational programs and outreach to millions of teens and young adults, and health services for men as well as women. Democrats are concerned that defunding the clinics will especially hurt women in poor and rural areas, who may not have any other options for health care.
The bill will now be sent on to President Trump for approval. Trump, a onetime supporter of Planned Parenthood, pledged on the campaign trail to defund the organization, so it is expected that he will approve the bill.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has vowed to keep its doors open, with or without federal funding. The organization has seen a huge spike in private donations in recent months. In the six weeks following Trump’s election, Planned Parenthood received over 300,000 donations–in an interesting twist, more than 82,000 of them were in Mike Pence’s name.