Last week, the federal government almost shut down for the first time in over fifteen years. While Democrats and Republicans have plenty to disagree about, the looming shut down was not, as one might logically assume, over funding streams and budget numbers, but instead was largely on policy issues — specifically women’s health issues.
Since debating H.R. 1 back in February, some House Republicans have steadily increased the pressure to attach two dangerous and harmful policy “riders” to the ongoing continuing resolution (CR) discussions. The first sought to eliminate Title X, the family planning program that has been in effect for over 40 years and was signed into law by the liberal lion, President Richard Nixon. Title X provides funding to clinics to offer such preventive services as screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and cancer, as well as family planning services. The second rider targeted Planned Parenthood specifically. Planned Parenthood receives federal funding in a few forms, including through Medicaid and Title X dollars, but potentially taking away the Title X funding stream was not enough for anti-choice members of Congress, so they sought to ensure Planned Parenthood received NO federal monies.
During the most recent CR debates, it appeared that although Democratic and Republican leaders has reached agreement on devastating cuts to federal programs, Republicans ratcheted up the assault on women’s health by demanding that these two harmful policy riders would also need to be attached for them to agree to the deal. And so as the hours ticked by, and the government came closer to shutting down, President Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators dug in their heels to defend Planned Parenthood and Title X, calling the Republicans out for making the focus of a budget debate divisive policy issues. Eventually, even anti-choice politicians like Mike Huckabee realized that an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood through the CR was poor strategy and was not worth a government shutdown.
At the last hour, an agreement was reached, and a government shutdown was averted. The final agreement, which contains $38.5 billion in cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, does not include either the Title X or Planned Parenthood rider. It also does not include the Global Gag Rule, which if passed, would have prevented foreign organizations receiving family planning federal monies from providing information, referrals or services on abortion options.
And while this is a victory that should be savored and for which women’s health activists and their pro-choice allies in Congress and the White House should be praised, the deal is certainly not without fault. Most notably, the DC abortion rider was included. This rider prevents the District of Columbia from using its locally-raised revenue to provide low-income women with funding support for the abortion services they need. While not all states take advantage of their ability to use their state monies in this way, each state is allowed to decide how to use its locally-raised revenue, while DC is not. Also in the final CR agreement, Majority Leader Reid agreed to hold stand alone votes on a number of the controversial policy issues, including the funding of Planned Parenthood clinics. While we expect our pro-choice allies in the Senate to be able to defeat this measure, it is not a good use of the Senate’s time when millions of Americans continue to be without jobs and focus should be on job creation and the economic recovery.