Blatant Attacks on Family Planning, Signs of More to Come

The Trump era continues to be baffling and enraging, often in equal measures.

Trump Budget Blueprint

On March 16, the Trump administration released what’s commonly known as the “skinny” budget, an early and extremely general outline of the president’s budgetary priorities for the coming fiscal year. While it contained an enormous increase for military spending—well beyond what the Pentagon has even asked for, it also called for massive cuts to essentially every other area of government.

Of concern to international family planning programs, it called for a 31-percent cut in funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which administer those efforts. Since this early blueprint did not contain funding amounts for specific programs, there’s no way of knowing exactly what Trump intends for international family planning programs. But given the devastating overall cuts he proposed for foreign aid and diplomacy, huge cuts to international family planning are likely on the agenda.

UNFPA Funding Cut

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long to find out about one of them. On April 3, the Trump administration announced that it would use its authority under the Kemp-Kasten provision to bar funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The move was expected, but it was nonetheless disappointing.

Kemp-Kasten was first enacted as part of an appropriations package in 1985. It forbids the United States from funding any program that the president determines is involved with coercive abortion or sterilization. UNFPA’s presence in China has been used under Republican administrations as justification for suspending funding, despite the fact that UNFPA has been a staunch voice against coercion and has worked to promote human rights around the world.

Using Kemp-Kasten in this way is an utter distortion of the spirit of the law. And the fact that UNFPA, and only UNFPA, is being targeted despite other agencies’ presence in China—and cooperation with the same Chinese government offices—makes clear that the act has much more to do with undermining reproductive rights than with promoting human rights.

The decision will cut off U.S. support for UNFPA’s vital work around the world, including its humanitarian assistance. At the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where tens of thousands of refugees are living after fleeing violence in Syria, UNFPA and its partners have delivered more than 7,000 babies without experiencing a single maternal death. That is a stunning statistic in a context where such deaths are all too common.

Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy may have said it best in his response to the announcement: “This decision is another egregious, unfounded, know-nothing example of the Trump administration ignoring the facts and putting politics over women’s lives.”

Affordable Care Act Stands (For Now)

In the years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the House of Representatives has voted to repeal or alter the law more than 60 times—and no, that’s not a typo. Now that Republicans also control the Senate and there’s a president in the White House who would sign such a repeal into law, they’ve managed to vote… zero times.

After nearly seven years of promising an alternative to the ACA, Paul Ryan and House Republican leaders finally unveiled the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Almost immediately, they ran up against an uncomfortable reality: Coming up with a plan to the right of the ACA that doesn’t result in millions of people losing their healthcare might not actually be possible. It turns out that healthcare policy is complicated. (Who knew, right, Donald?)

The ultra-right-wing House Freedom Caucus argued that the bill left too much of the structure of the ACA in place and insisted on changes. As the bill moved to the right, the slightly-more-moderate members of the so-called Tuesday Group began to step away from it.

After days of wrangling, and with the vote count on the bill moving in the wrong direction as members dug in, it became clear that the AHCA did not have enough support to pass. Rather than suffer humiliating defeat on the floor, leadership cancelled the vote and pulled the bill.

There are still several ways that HHS Secretary Tom Price and the Trump administration could work to undermine the ACA and potentially cripple the private insurance market. And numerous officials continue to insist that they are working on a new version of the replacement bill that will address members’ objections. So far, however, there’s no sign that they have managed to put together anything that can get a majority of votes in the House, let alone pass in the Senate. For now, the ACA stands.

Attacks on Title X

During the closing days of the Obama administration, HHS finalized a rule intended to prevent states from excluding Planned Parenthood and other clinics that offer abortion from eligibility for family planning grants under Title X. This Congress wasted no time in moving to undo that protection.

Title X is the only federal grant program specifically aimed at providing low-income people with access to family planning. The money is given to states to disperse, and does not fund abortion. Some states, however, were refusing grants to any clinic that offered abortion services. The new HHS rule was intended to prevent such discrimination.

A measure called the Congressional Review Act allows a new Congress to overturn any regulation issued by federal agencies within the previous 60 legislative days. This made the Title X rule vulnerable, and in February, the House voted to overturn it, 230-188. The Senate vote, on March 30, was much closer, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie. Donald Trump signed the measure on April 13.

Neil Gorsuch Confirmed to Supreme Court

When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat. In an unprecedented act of obstruction, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold hearings or schedule a vote on the nomination. The seat remained open for the remainder of President Obama’s term.

Shortly after his inauguration, Donald Trump announced Judge Neil Gorsuch as his pick to fill the vacancy. Progressives objected to the nomination, citing a troubling judicial history on individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Senate Democrats filibustered the nomination, preventing confirmation under the traditional Senate rules requiring 60 votes. On April 6, Sen. McConnell moved to change the rules, ending the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations and changing the threshold for confirmation to 51 votes. The following day, the Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), and Joe Donnelly (IN) joined all Republicans present in voting for confirmation.

Contact Stacie Murphy at stacie@popconnect.org.

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