Politics & Policy

Government to States: No, You Can’t Defund Planned Parenthood

Outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York City. (Reuters photo: Andrew Kelly)
A new rule would prohibit states from using their own criteria in deciding how to disburse Title X family-planning funds.

A new rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services would prohibit states from declining to fund certain health-care entities; if enacted, the rule will effectively prevent states from defunding groups on the grounds that they provide abortions. The money in question is Title X funding, federal money granted to states specifically for family-planning services. Prior to this rule, state governments have maintained the authority to use their own methods and criteria in deciding how to disburse Title X funds to family-planning institutions.

Now, the federal government is seeking to prevent states from distributing federal money “using criteria in their selection of subrecipients that are unrelated to the ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” Under this formulation, it would be nearly impossible for states to discriminate at all between entities receiving funding. In fact, it is plausible that the only discrimination permitted would be against crisis pregnancy centers, which could be deemed undeserving of funds because they don’t provide “family-planning services” such as abortion and contraception.

The rule cites the example of Florida, which enacted a law this year that would have prohibited abortion providers from receiving Title X funding. But the administration’s missive follows on the heels of a ruling in which federal judge Robert Hinkle permanently blocked the Florida law, arguing, absurdly, that because a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, it would be unconstitutional for Florida not to fund that right. As Ian Tuttle wrote at National Review Online in mid August, Hinkle’s ruling was just “another deplorable example” of judges “who have been happy to fabricate abortion rights whole-cloth to forward a perverse dream” of unlimited, federally funded abortion. With this new regulation, Hinkle’s rationale will be forced upon all 50 states under the guise of federal rulemaking.

The administration also identifies Texas as a problem state because in 2011 it reduced the amount of money channeled to family-planning services and established a tiered approach for distributing funds. The rule claims that in Texas, Florida, and states with similar legislation, the number of clients served under Title X decreased drastically, a situation that cannot be permitted to continue. The Guttmacher Institute reports that, as of July, 14 states had attempted in some way to limit the disbursement of Title X funding, in many cases using criteria related to the provision of abortions. Only four of those states have actually enacted laws to this effect: Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

RELATED: In Florida, a Blow to the Pro-Life Movement — & the Law

According to the Obama administration, none of the state restrictions addressed in the rule were related to health-care groups’ ability to deliver services, but rather were “based either on non–Title X health services offered or other activities the providers conduct with non-federal funds, or because they are a certain type of provider.” This phrasing makes it clear that the administration is referring to state attempts to remove Title X funding from Planned Parenthood or similar abortion providers.

This language is further clarified when we consider that both the Hyde Amendment and Title X deceptively claim that federal funds are never used for abortion, when, in reality, these claims ignore that money is fungible. Hyde is regularly attached to federal appropriations bills to stipulate that federal money will never be used specifically for abortion, but the amendment doesn’t prevent federal money from going to groups that perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood. Because money is fungible, as long as Planned Parenthood receives federal funding, and as long as it continues to perform abortions, federal money is, in fact, funding abortion — no matter what rhetoric the government uses to deny it.

Another example of this deception: The day after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, President Obama issued executive order 13535, ensuring that the act would be implemented consistent with existing restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion. But this order, too, ignored the fungibility of money. The president play-acted making a good-faith compromise with pro-life Americans; in reality, the executive order did nothing to prevent federal money from paying for abortions.

#related#In a similar way, this new rule claims that “Title X funds are not available to programs where abortion is a method of family planning, and no federal funds in Title X or any federal program may be expended for abortions.” This language makes it appear that federal money can be given to Planned Parenthood without that money funding abortion, thus depicting state attempts to remove Title X funding from these groups as unnecessary. But the fact that money is fungible negates the administration’s claim.

Health and Human Services will accept comments on the proposed rule until October 7, at which time it will issue the final regulation. Though opposing this rule is worthwhile to protect states’ ability to freely direct Title X grants, completely defunding the provision of abortion will take much more effort than that.


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