Welcome Back Congress: What You Need to Know

Although this current Congress has caused us all some heartaches, headaches, and induced some very serious eye-rolling,

Example of the very serious eye-rolling taking place in our offices almost daily.

there have been a few moments where our champions have made us cry those sweet happy tears of joy for supporting and prioritizing women’s health and rights.

This week as we welcomed back Congress we got a mix of both. Here’s what you need to know:
First, the bad news.
The House is currently considering the “Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act.” Appropriations bills are the legislative vehicles that allow for the government to continue funding important programs, like education, job training, and health care that impact you, me, and working families.
Unfortunately, Representative Palmer (R-Ala.) decided to introduce a fundamentally misguided amendment to the House appropriations bill that would bar D.C. from using its own funds to enforce the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (also known as RHNDA). RHNDA prevents employers from discriminating against women for the decisions they make about their reproductive health. For example, RHNDA ensures that a woman cannot be fired for using birth control even if her employer does not agree with her decision.
Obviously, that’s essential.

RHNDA makes clear that discrimination against women for their reproductive health decisions will not be tolerated in D.C. And, frankly, Representative Palmer, as a Republican from Alabama, shouldn’t be telling women in D.C. that their reproductive health decisions could be a firing offense if they conflict with the opinions and beliefs of their employers. D.C. should be free to pass laws to protect its citizens from discrimination, like RHNDA, and should be free to enforce those important protections.

This isn’t the only harm posed by the appropriations bill currently under consideration in the House. The bill would also eliminate the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). TPPP is a national evidence-based program that funds organizations that work to prevent teen pregnancy across the nation. Instead of continuing this important program, the House bill would fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs or so-called “sexual risk avoidance” programs. Research tells us that abstinence only education does not work to prevent teen pregnancy – yet Congress is attempting to appropriate $20 million to fund these ineffective programs.
Cue eye roll.

However, even with all of this bad news, Representative Barbara Lee pushed back by introducing an amendment in the House to restore funding for TPPP. We owe Representative Lee a HUGE THANK YOU for standing up for such an important program.

Next up in the Senate, the full committee marked up the Labor Health and Human Services (LHHS) appropriations, and it was full of pleasant surprises.

  • This July the Trump Administration “quietly axed” $213.6 million in TPPP grants to prevent teen pregnancy. BUT the bill in the Senate would restore full funding for TPPP. AND it would require the program to be administered as it was under the Obama Administration. Meaning the program would actually work to prevent teen pregnancy.

  • Senator Patty Murray, another champion of women’s health, introduced a HUGE amendment to LHHS to protect Title X funding and other similar programs. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing family planning and other  preventive health care services to low-income, under-insured, and uninsured individuals who otherwise lack access to care.

Her amendment also included continued support for health care enrollment under the ACA, a provision which is necessary because the Trump Administration cut funding for ACA outreach and advertising; $100 million dollars more for Title X; and $300 million dollars more for the CDC to fight Zika.
Senator Murray you are a rock star and we thank you for championing women’s health!
And your final update on Congress for this week:
The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill. Senator Jeanne Shaheen led the charge by introducing a phenomenal amendment which:

  • Removed the harmful global gag rule. The global gag rule – instituted by President Trump on his first day in office – is a policy which prohibits nongovernmental organizations abroad from receiving U.S. global health funding if they provide information, care, or referral services for abortion, even if they provide those services with their own non-government funds. The rule harms women around the world and forces health care providers to shut their doors.
  • Senator Shaheen’s amendment also increased family planning and reproductive health funding to $622.5 million in response to the original text of the underlying bill which had drastically cut funding for reproductive health care services.

Senator Shaheen’s pro-women’s health amendment was adopted by a vote of 16 to 15 with bipartisan support.

We couldn’t believe it either!
We owe Senator Shaheen a giant THANK YOU for her leadership and commitment to ensuring access to reproductive health services, including abortion, around the world. We are fans!

The ups and downs are not yet over – none of these provisions are a done deal. The appropriations process will continue until a final budget is agreed upon by both the House and the Senate. We hope that Members do the right thing and ensure continued funding for programs that support and promote women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care.