With a zeal that confounds logic, ignores the budgetary consequences, and defies the electorate, the U.S. Senate has passed a measure that will, in effect, give state legislatures the power to prevent Planned Parenthood providers in their state from receiving any funding for the provision of contraceptive services under Title X. The measure passed last Thursday after Vice President Pence cast two tie-breaking votes.
In February, when the resolution was debated in the House of Representatives, the House sponsor, Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Tennessee, insisted that, “We are not voting to defund Planned Parenthood in any way, shape, or form….We are not voting to cut family planning funding….And we are not voting to restrict abortion rights.” That, of course, is classic misdirection; it makes no sense, not even in the upside down world that Washington has become.
The political motivation was clear from the very beginning: In the name of banning abortions, defund Planned Parenthood by any means possible. In this case, by overturning an Obama Administration regulation that sought to block 13 states from denying Planned Parenthood any reimbursement for the contraceptive and other preventive services they provide under Title X, a federal program that supports family planning clinics serving low-income communities.
Of course, if Congress was genuinely serious about reducing abortions, they would be doing everything possible to prevent unplanned pregnancies, including reimbursing Planned Parenthood for the contraceptive services they provide. Instead, Congressional leaders are doing everything possible to defund contraceptive services, whether provided by Planned Parenthood or not.
For the past four years, the U.S. House of Representatives has been trying, without little success, to eliminate all funding for Title X. The U.S. Senate, with support from President Obama, blocked those earlier efforts, but this year the House could finally prevail. By year’s end, Title X, which was enacted in 1970 and has helped millions of couples plan their families, could be history.
Similarly, whether or not Obamacare survives Congressional attacks, Obamacare’s “contraceptive mandate,” which requires insurers to cover contraceptive care without a co-pay requirement, will likely be struck down by the Trump Administration. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has not gotten around to it yet; he just needs more time to hire staff.
And the assault on contraception will not stop there. Congress and the Administration will also attempt this year to eliminate funding for comprehensive sex education in the schools and fund, instead, “abstinence-only” programs that make no reference to birth control methods. If Trump and his allies in Congress are successful, teen pregnancies will increase and so will the number of abortions, as research shows that abstinence-only programs are simply not effective.
Over the past several years, the war on abortion has somehow morphed into an undeclared war on contraception. The political assaults are still being fought under anti-abortion and religious liberty banners, but the targets, more often than not, are the providers of contraceptive services and the principal casualties are the low-income families that they serve.
While public opinion polls show overwhelming support for family planning programs, some on the religious right believe that contraception is immoral and some, like Rick Santorum, who ran for the GOP’s presidential nod in 2012, have gone so far as to declare it dangerous. When asked to explain his concerns, Santorum declared that it is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Hmmm.
That’s not the only absurd reason given for opposition to contraception. When he spoke on the House floor in opposition to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, the ever-quotable Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, declared that, “Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. That’s not — that’s not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below replacement rate we’re a dying civilization.” With 325 million Americans at present, and a U.S. population projected to reach 400 million by mid-century, it seems unlikely that making contraceptives more affordable is going to destroy America and all that we stand for.
The Trump Administration has taken up the anti-contraception mantle with a vengeance. The president’s proposed budget cuts would slash support for comprehensive sex education in our schools and for family planning at home and abroad. But just to be sure that there is no mistaking the Administration’s position, President Trump recently appointed two birth control opponents as delegates to the 61st Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. One of the appointments once described the UN’s focus on contraception and reproductive health issues as “monomaniacal.”
The war on contraception, whether it is overt or covert, is beyond curious; it is counterproductive. It does a disservice and real harm to the women and men who want to delay or prevent a pregnancy…and that’s pretty much all of us at one time or another in our lives. It is also a disservice to taxpayers, as experience has amply demonstrated that every dollar spent on family planning yields far greater savings on Medicaid and other government outlays.
And yet, to paraphrase, Sen. Mitch McConnell, “They still persist.”
This op-ed by Population Institute President Robert Walker originally ran on March 31, 2017 on The Huffington Post