Members of Congress Have Made Their Spending Priorities Clear, And it’s Not Good.

While the whole world was understandably distracted by a Senate bill that would result in millions losing insurance, the House of Representatives launched a full-scale assault on women’s health, evidence-based medicine, and really just science writ large. And the weapon of mass destruction chosen to accomplish all of this? The first draft of the Labor, Health and Humans Services, and Education (LHHS) funding bill.  The bill, introduced Wednesday and passed out of subcommittee yesterday afternoon, is meant to fund programs that promote our country’s health, education, and well-being. This version of the bill does the exact opposite.
The bill includes two provisions to allow health care providers to place their religious beliefs ahead of comprehensive patient care. The bill would allow hospitals and other providers to refuse to provide needed treatments– including preventing doctors and nurses from giving patients basic referrals and information about the best plan of care– which can and has put women’s lives and health in danger.
The bill continues a policy of denying access to abortion for women struggling to make ends meet. For the last four decades, this provision, known as the Hyde Amendment, has prohibited health coverage of abortion for individuals enrolled in Medicaid. The Hyde Amendment deepens existing economic inequalities and forces 1 in 4 poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
The bill targets trusted family planning providers.  The bill would strip Planned Parenthood of critical federal funding, blocking millions across the country from accessing critical health care services, including birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, at Planned Parenthood health centers. Members of Congress dead set on defunding Planned Parenthood often falsely claim patients can just go to Title X clinics instead, but this bill would also eliminate funding for Title X. Title X provides preventive health care for low-income, under-insured, and uninsured individuals who otherwise might not be able to get these services, helping millions across the country every year. Plus, Title X is the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services.
Several provisions of the bill threaten the health, education, and well-being of young people. The bill eliminates funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. The TPPP enables parents and the community to support the healthy development of young people by funding local programs that provide medically-accurate, comprehensive sex education and support. At the same time, the bill dramatically increases funding for so-called “abstinence-only” programs despite repeated studies demonstrating that these programs are completely ineffective. In fact, failing to teach teens about contraception actually increases the incidence of unintended pregnancy in young people. Imagine that.
The bill threatens important research methods that have led to major advances in human health. Fetal tissue research helped lead to vaccines for devastating diseases like polio, measles, and rubella. But members of Congress want to put an end to it. The bill’s prohibition could disrupt critical research and development in labs across the country, including development of vaccines for ebola and HIV.
Taken altogether, the Labor-HHS bill would have a devastating impact on access to health care for millions. The full committee will consider the bill next Wednesday and could make changes, we will do our best to make sure they do.