Washington View, September 2023
Written by Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Political Affairs | Published: September 11, 2023
House Introduces Harmful Funding Bills
House Republicans use funding bills to gut family planning
On July 12, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2024 State Department and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) funding bill on a pure party line vote of 32–27 with all Democrats on the committee voting in opposition.
The bill, if passed into law unchanged—which is extremely unlikely—calls for cutting funding for international family planning programs by $150 million or nearly 25 percent. It also bars any aid to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s largest multilateral provider of reproductive health care and family planning services, and reinstates the disgraceful Global Gag Rule.
Such a bill threatens to severely undermine access to contraceptives around the world. The most recent estimates suggest that there are at least 218 million women in the developing world who want to prevent or delay pregnancy but have an unmet need for contraceptives. The Covid-19 pandemic likely increased unmet need.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the SFOPs Subcommittee, offered an amendment to restore funding to these crucial programs, to ensure funding for UNFPA, and to eliminate the provision reinstating the Global Gag Rule. A number of Democrats spoke out about the enormous returns in terms of improved health, reduced poverty, increased economic opportunities, and a more stable planet that investment in family planning brings. Every Republican on the committee voted against the Lee amendment, and it was defeated.
In contrast, the Senate version of the SFOPs funding bill calls for an increase of just over $25 million for global health, for a total of $635.1 million, with $35.1 million dedicated for UNFPA. That funding increase is the result of an amendment offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) during the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting. The amendment was approved on a near party line vote with all Democrats except Joe Manchin (D-WV) being joined by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The Committee also refused to reinstate the Global Gag Rule.
On July 13, House Republican leaders released a draft of the 2024 funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. This bill completely eliminates the Title X domestic family planning program and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI).
Created in 1970 under President Richard Nixon, the Title X program has helped tens of millions of lower income Americans receive affordable family planning services. It has also provided cancer screenings and other essential reproductive health care to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Its elimination threatens the care of the millions of Americans who rely on the network of nearly 3,000 Title X providers across the country.
As a target of the right-wing opposition to all family planning care, much like the international program, Title X has been woefully underfunded in recent years. Its funding has stagnated for a decade, and it has only been able to serve about half the people eligible. The impact of its elimination would be severe in every state.
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was created during the Obama administration to provide young people with medically accurate, evidence-based information about preventing unintended pregnancies. It was a counter to earlier efforts to promote harmful and failed “abstinence-only” education. Since TPPI’s creation, teen pregnancy rates in the United States have plummeted, though they remain higher than those of other developed nations.
The Republican draft bill was not brought up before the Appropriations Committee before the House adjourned for its August recess.
The Senate Appropriations Committee did act on its version of the Labor/HHS/Education funding package before recess. And again, the contrast between the two chambers’ approaches is stark. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) brought forth a bill that protects funding for Title X and TPPI. Under the Senate bill, Title X will receive $286.5 million, the same level since 2014, and TPPI will receive $101 million.
While these two bills are the most relevant to efforts to expand access to domestic family planning services, Republicans in the House have been adding riders to stymie reproductive health care across the government. They used the Agriculture bill to try to force the FDA to restrict access to mifepristone, one of two drugs used for medication abortions, and they used the Veterans’ Affairs bill to attack efforts to protect reproductive health care for women in the VA system.
Next steps are unclear. The government fiscal year ends on September 30, and if Congress fails to approve new funding bills, the specter of a government shutdown looms.
Defense Authorization bill becomes magnet for abortion fight in House
The House took up the Defense Authorization bill on July 13. Usually a bill that draws strong debates about the role of the U.S. military in the world and the funding levels for the Pentagon versus other priorities, this year, under the Republican majority, it became a vehicle for a different kind of war: the right-wing culture war.
During debate, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), a former White House physician who was fired after sexually harassing subordinates and drinking and taking Ambien while on official business, offered an amendment to block the Defense Department from expending any resources to help women in any branch of the armed services travel for the purposes of receiving abortion care. Following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, President Biden issued a directive to the Pentagon to help defray costs for any woman who had to travel from a base in a state where abortion was made illegal. The Jackson amendment blocks that directive.
Several Democratic veterans in the House spoke out against the Jackson amendment. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) ranted to reporters about what an outrage the amendment was and how stupid it was to make her and other Republicans vote on it. She then entered the House chamber and voted yes. The amendment was approved on a vote of 222–213, with two Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and John Duarte (R-CA), joining Democrats in voting no.