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US Congress Finds New Route to Attack Planned Parenthood

Vote Overshadows Trumps’ Recent Overtures About Women’s Empowerment

Yesterday, President Donald Trump said that, “Only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to … make America great again.” Today, he sent Vice President Mike Pence to the Senate to help Congress roll back support for women’s health.

A sign in support of Planned Parenthood is seen outside a town hall meeting for Republican U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy in Metairie, Louisiana, U.S. February 22, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

My colleagues and I at Human Rights Watch have spoken to women from many different United States communities and in a range of different circumstances about their health care over the years. Many told us that their worst fears were losing access to quality health care, that insurance wouldn’t cover pregnancy and childbirth, that Planned Parenthood would be defunded, and that their families would suffer. These fears were averted last week, at least for a moment, when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan decided not to move forward with a vote on the American Health Care Act. The AHCA would have eviscerated Planned Parenthood.

Yet many in Congress were upset that Planned Parenthood was left unscathed.

So, today, the Senate pushed forward a bill that would allow states to withhold Title X family planning funds from Planned Parenthood. Specifically, the law would undo a rule that prevents states from restricting which health care providers receive Title X money.

Title X is a national program that funds services to more than 4 million Americans, ensuring access to basic reproductive health care. Past efforts by Kansas and Texas to cut family planning money and restrict Title X funding meant many women could no longer afford to go to Planned Parenthood and independent clinics. Women went without cancer screenings, birth control, testing, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The vote today in the Senate would make it easier for states to restrict disbursement of Title X grants by creating their own eligibility requirements that would exclude certain family planning providers – like Planned Parenthood. This vote is another way to target Planned Parenthood, but the bill it advances would harm women broadly.

Planned Parenthood provides a broad range of services in some of the most marginalized communities in the country. More than half of its clinics are in rural or urban areas that are designated “medically underserved.” If states move now to restrict Title X money, some of the most vulnerable women and families in the US will be hurt by Congress’s callous approach to women’s health.

Many lawmakers know this, and that’s why Pence had to make the unprecedented trip to Capitol Hill to break the tie.

Pence’s action makes Trump’s rhetorical embrace of women’s empowerment seem very hollow and cynical indeed. 

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