By Laura Nunez
In a not-so-surprising move, House Speaker Paul Ryan recently announced that a measure to defund Planned Parenthood will be included in the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Though it’s not the first attempt at gutting the health care provider, this bill is the first one that actually has promise of being passed. With a republican-controlled Congress and President-elect Trump’s imminent inauguration, the measure is expected to move forward.
The promise to “defund” Planned Parenthood has been a long-held battle cry to rally conservative voters into action. Republicans steered a successful smear campaign against the organization, distorting its image from supportive community facility to “abortion mill” and “fetal tissue factory.” However, if scrubbed from the federal coffers, millions of low income, disabled, and elderly Americans will be left with little access to health care.
“You can’t completely end a healthcare system in America and not think what the impact will be on the folks who have least access to care,” says Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood.
About 40% of Planned Parenthood’s $1.3 billion annual revenue is supplemented through federal funds. The organization receives this money from both Title 10, a federal grant program for family planning, and Medicaid. Two thirds of Planned Parenthood’s patients rely on public programs like Medicaid for health care, so the provider receives reimbursements for services like STI testing or cervical cancer screenings. Under the Hyde amendment, no federal resources are allowed to fund programs that provide abortion services, unless in cases of rape or preserving the mother’s life. Planned Parenthood does perform legal abortions, but they only account for about 3% of their overall budget.
President Obama recently enacted a new rule that bars states from blocking funds to clinics solely because they provide abortion services. While this will preserve some government funding for Planned Parenthood, regulations only apply to states and account for 5% of the organization’s budget.
Since the measure to defund Planned Parenthood is tied to the budget reconciliation bill that takes aim at repealing the ACA, low income Americans are doubly at risk. Unlike normal bills, which require a three-fifths majority to pass, reconciliation bills only need a simple majority. Even more damning, reconciliation bills are not subject to filibuster, a strategy Democrats have used to quash similar bills in the past.
Although Republicans currently have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, Democrats may have some allies across the aisle. Rand Paul, (R-KY), has announced he plans to vote against the legislation to repeal the ACA. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have expressed concern about defunding Planned Parenthood through reconciliation. They have opposed similar efforts in the past, and will make a decision once the language of the bill has been agreed upon. Public polling has also shown that a majority of Americans oppose defunding Planned Parenthood entirely, which may also influence the Senators’ final verdict. If all three Senators vote against the bill, Planned Parenthood and the ACA will be saved for the time being.
For now, Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood supporters are preparing for “one hell of a fight.” After Ryan’s announcement, Planned Parenthood Action Fund launched the “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” campaign, a means by which supporters can share their opposition with Congress. Supporters can also participate in any of the several hundred demonstrations the organization has scheduled across the country in the coming months.