The US House approved the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (HR 3134) in a vote of 241-187, on September 18, which, if enacted, could result in as many as 650,000 Americans losing access to preventative care, and potentially several thousand more unintended pregnancies being carried to term, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
"To the extent that there would be reductions in access to care under HR 3134, they would affect services that help women avert pregnancies," the CBO reported. "The people most likely to experience reduced access to care would probably reside in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations."
Reproductive rights and justice groups widely condemned the vote to reduce the reach of a reproductive health-care network that one-fifth of US women rely on at some point in their lives - to say nothing of the non-binary and trans people who trust Planned Parenthood because of the way our health-care system routinely fails the majority of those patients.
"It is unconscionable that politicians in Congress continue to play this game of keep-away with women's basic health-care services," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Without access to critical health care offered at Planned Parenthood clinics across the US, the lives and health of countless women will be at grave risk."
"This bill is especially dangerous because anti-choice Republicans are framing it as a 'compromise': cutting off funding for one year, supposedly to give Congress time to conduct more witch-hunt-style investigations and avoid a government shutdown," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement supporting Planned Parenthood. "It's deviously brilliant because they know if they can cut off funding for one year, it'll be nearly impossible to get that funding restored."
The Republican leadership is attempting to strip Title X funding - which provides contraception and preventative care to low-income patients - from Planned Parenthood because they disapprove of abortion care. Abortion is a mere 3 percent of the reproductive health-care organization's services and the Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funding from going to abortion, but that isn't stopping legislators from going after the $60 million Planned Parenthood receives under Title X.
This motivation was made clear by an unexpected "present" vote from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who felt the legislation didn't go far enough.
"The funding fight starts now - this is our marker - HR 3134 is not a sufficient vote to defund Planned Parenthood," said King in a statement. "I expect much stronger language than this in the CR coming up in the next few weeks. Innocent, unborn babies deserve more than just a show vote."
Because those who would lose access are primarily low-income Americans, the resulting unintended pregnancies and live births would largely be covered by Medicaid funds at an average of $20,716 per birth, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that studies and reports on sexual and reproductive health and rights. In 2010 alone, family planning funding saved the government an estimated $15.5 billion in unintended pregnancy costs. This clear benefit is why Title X was uncontroversial when President Nixon signed it into law in 1970.
"It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition," Nixon declared at the time.
But now, despite 71 percent of voters preferring to have Planned Parenthood funded rather than risk a government shut down - which cost the economy $24 billion last time according to Standard & Poor's - House leadership and the GOP presidential front-runners continue to support the legislation, which could result in just such a stalemate.
Shutting down the government is expensive. Meanwhile, the programs the House is attempting to cut are extremely cost-effective. According to Guttmacher, current investments in family planning services - contraception, STI testing etc. - save taxpayers an estimated $15.8 billion and prevent 760,000 abortions every year, making the focus on eliminating these services contrary to the GOP's supposed motivation. An additional $15 billion could be saved by expanding services, and further reducing the number of unintended pregnancies.
Even the underlying misguided motivation to prevent federal funding for abortion care is unpopular. Polling done in anticipation of the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act being introduced this summer found that even 62 percent of Republican voters agree with the statement: "As long as abortion is legal, the amount of money a woman has or does not have should not prevent her from being able to have an abortion."
The good news for the majority of Americans who support continued funding for Planned Parenthood is that even if this legislation could become law, the $390 million that is sent through the Medicaid program would be left in place. Because only $60 million is on the table, the GOP would only be able to take back 0.00001136 percent of the $3.8 trillion federal budget.
Not only is the House leadership willing to spend billions shutting down the government over this minuscule sum, but they're also allowing programs like the Child Nutrition Act to potentially expire because they're spending time debating contraception coverage rather than ensuring funds are properly allocated for programs, including School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Child and Adult Care Food, Summer Food Service, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children).
This focus on punishing an organization for a small percentage of what they do rather than tending to other legislative business explains why Planned Parenthood is so much more popular than the GOP. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Planned Parenthood has a total positive rating of 45 percent (a fairly predictable party line split) versus a 28 percent positive rating for the Republican Party.
Though the Planned Parenthood funding vote got the majority of the attention, it wasn't the only anti-reproductive health-care legislation to pass the House last week.
"In a separate effort to choke off essential reproductive health care, the House also passed HR 3504 today, a measure introduced by Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) which would amend the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 by adding new criminal penalties against doctors," said Northrup of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "In addition to criminalizing physicians for providing constitutionally protected health services, HR 3504 also mandates vague new requirements on how physicians must care for their patients."
The Senate is also considering spending the final hours before the budget is due debating anti-abortion legislation - most likely their version of the 20-week ban already passed by the House.
"Senator McConnell's already talked about some pro-life legislation he'll be filing for cloture on at the end of next week," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on September 10.
These bills aren't just about cost to tax payers and a possible reduction in access to reproductive health care; they add to a hostile climate across the country. States have enacted 51 new abortion restrictions this year, bringing the total number of anti-abortion bills passed since 2010 to 282. Every piece of anti-abortion and anti-contraception legislation enacted puts access further and further out of reach.
As Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts) said during the floor debate on September 18, "If we pass this bill, we tell low-income families in this country that we count their health and happiness less."
"Today's vote was about one thing: the ability of American women and their families to access basic health care. Every day, across our country, thousands of women, men, and children show up at Planned Parenthood's doors for cancer screenings, diagnostic tests, family planning and other essential health services they otherwise could not access or afford," Kennedy continued. "Eighty percent of the patients who this organization serves have incomes at or below 150 percent of the poverty line. Over half of Planned Parenthood centers are in regions with a shortage of health care professionals, or in a rural or underserved community. It is those communities and families - already underserved, already struggling to access care, already fighting to make ends meet - that my Republican colleagues turned their backs on today."