Reproductive Rights Hang in the Balance as 2019 Nears

Congress Funds Title X, Punts on International Family Planning

In late September, Congress approved a fiscal year 2019 spending package that extended current funding through early December 2018 for some programs and authorized full-year funding for others. Title X, the nation’s family planning program for low-income populations, was in the latter category, and was funded at the 2018 level of $286.5 million. Abstinence-only programs, meanwhile, saw a $10 million increase.

The State Department and Foreign Operations budget, which includes U.S. international family planning funding, was among those extended until after the election. The expectation is that this December, the 115th Congress will pass another extension to see the remaining programs through until after the 116th Congress is seated. As matters stand now, bilateral family planning programs are funded at $575 million and the U.S. contribution to UNFPA is $32.5 million — although the current Kemp-Kasten determination barring funding to the organization means that money has been “reprogrammed” to other women’s health initiatives.

Despite months of vague threats about shutting down the government unless he got funding for a border wall, Donald Trump signed the measure soon after it passed.

No Word on Domestic Gag Rule

As reported in our September issue, the Trump administration has indicated that it intends to alter the rules governing funding for Title X. Under the proposed change, no entity receiving Title X funding could “perform, promote, refer for, or support, abortion as a method of family planning, nor take any other affirmative action to assist a patient to secure such an abortion.”

Additionally, Title X-funded providers would not be required to offer all forms of FDA-approved contraception, nor be required to discuss all options with pregnant patients. The required “notice and comment” period — a rule-making procedure that ensures members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in on changes — ended on August 31. As yet, there has been no further information from the administration, though advocates do anticipate the rule being confirmed. Typically, such a change would only go into effect after a one-year “implementation period,” but whether the Trump administration will adhere to custom in this instance is yet to be seen.

Appeals Court to Rule on Abortion Rights for Minor Immigrants

In late September, a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments on whether the U.S. has the right to deny abortion access to pregnant minors in the custody of immigration authorities. The Justice Department claims it does, arguing that the government “has a strong, legitimate, and profound interest in the life of the child in the womb.”

The head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, is fervently anti-choice, and made headlines in 2017 when it was revealed that he personally visited young, pregnant detainees to attempt to persuade them to carry their pregnancies to term. During the hearing, the government revealed that 420 young, pregnant immigrants were in federal custody last year. Eighteen requested abortions. Eleven obtained the procedure, five withdrew their requests, and two were released to sponsors, so the outcome of those pregnancies is not known.

The court is hearing the case after a district court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the government in March, ruling that the Trump administration policy of attempting to block young immigrants’ access to abortion was probably illegal. No decision had been announced as of our print deadline.

Kavanaugh Replaces Kennedy, Roe Hangs in the Balance

After sailing through his initial confirmation hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court was nearly derailed when multiple women came forward with allegations of past sexual misconduct. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at Stanford University, alleged that when she was fifteen, Kavanaugh and a friend assaulted her at a gathering of high school friends. Another acquaintance, Deborah Ramirez, claimed that at a drunken college party, Kavanaugh exposed himself and shoved his genitals at her face. A third woman, Julie Swetnick, described witnessing Kavanaugh and his high school friends deliberately targeting girls, encouraging them to drink heavily, and lining up outside of rooms where intoxicated girls were being assaulted by multiple boys. She claims she was later raped by a group of boys at just such a party, although she did not accuse Kavanaugh of being one of her attackers.

On September 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an additional hearing, at which Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh both testified. Blasey Ford spoke first, telling the committee she was “100 percent certain” Kavanaugh was her attacker. The judge issued a flat denial of the assault, though the rest of his testimony was full of evasions and downright preposterous assertions (e.g. he and the other boys who called themselves “Renate alumni,” referring to a female acquaintance, obviously intended to signal only respect and friendship, and if you suspect otherwise you have a dirty mind).

On September 28, on a party-line vote, Kavanaugh’s nomination was advanced out of committee, although several Republicans agreed that further investigation of the allegations was appropriate before any final vote could be taken. The White House authorized a one-week, limited FBI investigation. On October 3, the FBI announced that it had completed the supplemental probe, though agents failed to interview either Dr. Blasey Ford or Judge Kavanaugh about her allegations. The FBI did interview Deborah Ramirez, although reports also indicate that they did not speak to any of the corroborating witnesses she named.

On October 6, despite massive public protests, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, with the support of all Republicans except for Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Maine senator Susan Collins, who has frequently broken with her party on reproductive rights and women’s issues over the years, declined to do so in this instance. Collins said that while she believed Blasey Ford was telling the truth about having been assaulted, she must have been mistaken as to the identity of her attacker. Additionally, Collins said, she believed Kavanaugh was not a threat to Roe v. Wade. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin was the only Democrat to vote in favor of confirmation.

Looking Ahead

Washington View is frequently a challenging column to write. So often, our early print deadline means that things I write about have changed by the time the magazine arrives in readers’ mailboxes. This is never truer than with a column like this one, written before an election but read after. So much depends on what happens (happened, now, from your perspective) on November 6. The outcome will determine much of the trajectory for 2019 and beyond, not only for family planning, but also for so many other issues facing our nation and our world.


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