RWV: Take Action: Congress Can Save Title X

Cross-posted from our joint Raising Women’s Voices campaign

Trump Rules Force Clinics to Scramble to Protect Patients

On Monday, reproductive health clinics across the nation withdrew from the federal Title X program rather than submit plans for complying with the Trump administration’s radical new “gag” rule.

Planned Parenthood, the largest Title X grantee serving roughly 40% of the program’s patients, promised it would continue to provide services using charitable donations and state funds where possible. Vermont announced this week that it will use its own money to cover the shortfall at the state’s ten Planned Parenthood clinics. With the help of RWV regional coordinators Consumer Health First and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Maryland and Massachusetts had previously enacted legislation to replace lost Title X funds with state funds in anticipation of Trump attacks on the program. Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Washington have promised to do the same.

But in red and purple states like Utah, where Planned Parenthood is the sole Title X provider; Minnesota, where Planned Parenthood serves 90% of the state’s Title X population; and Maine, where the state’s sole Title X grantee Maine Family Planning has also been forced from the program by the new rules; clinics are scrambling to make up for the shortfall. Maine Family Planning has promised to try to fill the funding gap “using its own limited reserves” for as long as it can and is seeking donations. In Utah, the clinics have warned they may no longer be able to offer free services to Title X patients.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, highlighted the tenuous nature of the situation: “What we are committed to doing is using some emergency funds to help our patients get through, but it will have an impact. Using fundraising—essentially charity for what should be a [government] responsibility—it’s like holding an umbrella during a tsunami.”

“Defunding” Planned Parenthood—and Much More

Conservatives have pushed for the new rules as a partial fulfillment of abortion opponents’ dream of “defunding” Planned Parenthood, which reportedly receives $60 million in Title X funding to provide family planning health services to low-income women and men. But the new rule won’t just affect Planned Parenthood and if it is allowed to stand, could wipe out independent clinics nationwide that lack Planned Parenthood’s clout or resources.

Furthermore, the rule isn’t just an attack on real clinics. It’s also a huge transfer of taxpayer dollars to fake, religiously affiliated clinics that oppose contraception. Even as real clinics may be forced to shut down, the rule ensures that fake clinics focused on shaming and misinformation will expand their reach. The administration has already funneled $1.7 million Title X funds to the Obria Group, a religious facility which promotes abstinence and opposes contraception.

Patients visiting one of Obria’s Title X clinics won’t be able to walk out with a prescription for birth control, instead they’ll be referred to a separate clinic for another appointment—a set up designed to make contraception more inconvenient to access. But first patients will be subject to abstinence-only propaganda and encouraged to use the FEMM fertility tracking app backed by a hard-right Christian anti-abortion foundation.

Take Action to Stop the Rule

As we wrote earlier this month, the battle now turns to the federal appropriations process, which may be our last, best hope of stopping Trump’s Title X rule before it can do lasting damage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has happily turned the Senate into a legislative graveyard, where bipartisan Senate bills and House-passed bills on health care, gun control, election security, and anti-corruption measures go to die. But with current funding for fiscal year 2019 expiring on September 30, McConnell has no choice but to let his chamber vote on a wide-ranging spending deal or shut down the government. An FY 2020 appropriations package is one of only a few “must-pass” bills that Congress will tackle before the November 2020 elections and the most natural fit for saving Title X.

Earlier this summer, the House passed a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spending bill that included a policy provision (“rider”) rolling back all of the administration’s changes to Title X. The Senate is set to take up its own HHS funding bill when Congress returns from its August break.

We are calling on senators to include the House’s language in the Senate appropriations bill to protect the 4 million people who depend on Title X. If both chambers pass strong protections for Title X in their respective bills, it becomes much more difficult (though not impossible) for lawmakers to trade away reproductive health care as a bargaining chip with the White House.

Voting for an appropriations package without the Title X rider is no different than voting to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

It’s not clear from our vantage point whether Title X’s congressional supporters fully understand how important the House language is and are sufficiently motivated to fight for it. We can’t take anything for granted, even the support of women’s health champions. We need to make clear that voting for an appropriations package without the Title X rider is no different than voting to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

Cosponsoring a bill that’s going to die in committee, taking a show vote on a bill that’s going to die in the other chamber, or writing a strongly worded letter to the administration isn’t going to stop millions of vulnerable women and men from losing their reproductive health care. Only enacting the House’s Title X rider will.

That’s why it’s time, once again, to CALL, EMAIL, and VISIT your Senate and House members!

From now until September 9, all of your federal representatives will be back in their home states for the August recess. They may be hosting town halls (search for town halls near you here or call and ask), visiting local events, or holding office hours. There’s still time to make your voice heard!

Tell them that refusing to include the House-passed Title X provision in the Senate HHS spending bill or in any final spending package will “defund” Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics.

Planned Parenthood has a helpful call script for calling your senators, available here. And remember, if you’re having trouble getting through to your senators’ DC offices, it can sometimes be easier to speak with a staffer in their home state offices.