On Feb. 18, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 240-185 to pass an amendment sponsored by Indiana Republican Mike Pence that effectively would strip all federal funding from Planned Parenthood. The conservative attack on the reproductive-health organization is rooted in ideology, not pragmatism or the desire to prevent federal funding of abortions, critics of the amendment say.
The amendment marks Pence’s fourth attempt to strip Title X funding from any organization that provides abortions or abortion referrals. The Democratic-controlled Senate and looming veto pen of President Obama likely will block the amendment from becoming law, and as Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood President and CEO Pat McGeown suggests, the 1977 Hyde Amendment already prohibits federally funded abortions.
Title X, the 1970 legislation signed into law by then-President Nixon, provides family planning services, preventative health care, counseling, and prevention education to around 5 million people annually. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least one clinic in 75 percent of U.S. counties receives Title X funding.
Locally, Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood’s $4.5 million annual budget supports health centers in Albany, Troy and Hudson and a staff of over 50 health care professionals. If passed, the Pence amendment would ban all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, including revenue from Medicaid, Title X and federal grants, totaling a loss of approximately $1.25 million.
McGeown was adamant in her defense of Planned Parenthood and the Title X funding it receives. “There is no money in Title X that goes to abortions. . . . It’s family planning, it’s birth control.” McGeown noted the debates preceding the Feb. 18 vote, when the congressman, speaking in favor of the amendment, chided the organization for providing abortions and abortion referrals.
“Abortions are legal in this country and there is a law on the books that prohibits federal funding from supporting abortions,” McGeown continued “They have what they want already, they would just rather that we not exist all together.” She went on to call the amendment “extreme” and the defenses of it “disingenuous.”
The “law on the books” McGeown refers to is the Hyde Amendment, which was launched back into the spotlight during last year’s health-care debate. The amendment prohibits federal Medicaid funds from going toward abortions unless used for instances of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
If the amendment does make it through the Senate and escapes a presidential veto, Planned Parenthood would lose more than $360 million nationally, and would deplete Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood’s annual budget by about 25 percent. McGeown warned that the cuts “won’t save money” and will create an increase in both sexually transmitted infection and unintended pregnancy. A UHPP press release from Feb. 18 warns of job loss and the removal of health care for “American women who cannot afford to pay for it on their own.”
For UHPP, abortions only make up a small slice of the provided services—according to the same Feb. 18 press release, 12 percent of the work they provide is abortions or abortion referrals, and the remaining 88 percent is made up of the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infection, cervical cancer screenings, annual gynecological exams, birth control and birth control counseling, pregnancy testing and more. More than 11,000 patients made nearly 24,000 visits to UHPP’s clinics last year. A large portion of those patients fell “under the federal poverty line and many see no other health care provider,” claimed McGeown, who said the major population UHPP serves is young adults age 19-29 who are underinsured or have no insurance at all.
Locally, Republican Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-20) voted for the amendment, his spokesperson defending his position by saying the congressman is “supportive of Title X funding” but ”does not support taxpayer funding to perform abortions.” McGeown takes issue with this stance, saying the congressman is blocking health care to constituents “based on erroneous information.”
Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-21) voted against the amendment, saying “it restricts critical funding that supports health care services offered by Planned Parenthood for many low-income women at little or no cost.” He worries that cutting off funding from Planned Parenthood will “result in fewer affordable, quality health care options for women and families who need these services the most.”
Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand, both Democrats, are both expected to vote against any attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Gillibrand has been an advocate for Planned Parenthood and woman’s health and reproductive rights in her two years as senator.
McGeown, while mildly confident in the Senate’s—and President Obama’s—ability to stop the Pence Amendment, is still weary of the looming cuts. “To say, in this day and age, when people are out of work and having a hard time getting health insurance, that you can’t have access to family planning services, is just a recipe for disaster.”