H.J. Res. 43 – Repealing a Regulation Preventing States from Defunding Abortion Providers

I feel like every time I wade into the thicket of abortion, I have to re-emphasize two facts. First, abortion is legal in the United States. That can make you mad, you can have feelings about it, you can have religious or personal or moral reasons that motivate you to wish it weren’t so. But that doesn’t change that fact. Women have the right to get abortions in America. Secondly, the Hyde Amendment (as we’ve already discussed elsewhere here) prohibits the federal funding of abortions. This is a step the government doesn’t take in every instance. I have deeply held, moral objections to lots of things that my tax dollars get used for. But if you are squeamish about your money being used for abortion, the Hyde Amendment has your back.

Now that we’ve said that, conservatives continue to attack access to abortion. Whether it’s (unconstitutionally) making women travel hundreds of miles for the procedure, or making the prerequisites overly onerous on both patients and doctors, to outright threats and literal attacks on abortion providers, those two facts don’t do much to slow down the single-minded goal that most conservatives have – the end to legal abortion in the United States.

Which brings us to House Joint Resolution 43 – Providing for Congressional Disapproval Under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Final Rule Submitted to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Relating to Title X Requirements by Project Recipients in Selecting Subrecipients. As with most of the legislation I’ve looked into, the title sounds daunting and opaque, but the meat of it is pretty simple. It’s an attack on the tried and true conservative boogeyman, Planned Parenthood. Instead of a frontal assault like the ones I’ve mentioned above, this is another attempt to nibble around the edges of women’s access to healthcare, specifially, the kind that conservatives don’t like for women to use.

We’ve already seen that a lot of what Congress is doing in their first month is to undo what the Obama administration had done when it comes to rules and regulations set forth by various cabinet agencies. Chapter 8 of Title 5, which we’ve seen before, references the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn these rules and regulations if they were enacted in the last 60 days of the prior administration. Until this year, it had only been used once, but it’s now been fully unleashed.

In this case, the regulation under attack is one that tells states “you can’t deny funding under Title X to an organization just because they provide abortion services.” Title X funding is used for public health and family planning.

H.J. Res. 43 was introduced in the House by Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee.She’s garnered 143 co-sponsors (including one Democrat – our good friend Collin Peterson). Sen. Joni Ernst has submitted parallel legislation in the Senate in the form of S.J. Res 13. I’ll be keeping an eye on both and updating this as events warrant.

Black called the Title X regulation “a final parting gift to Planned Parenthood” from the Obama Administration. The rule, she argued, would “entrench” federal funding of Planned Parenthood. This conflating of “funding Planned Parenthood” with “funding abortion” is one that Republicans have tried for years, and not without success. And thus, a regulation whose goal was to base funding for family planning organizations on the organization’s ability to provide family planning services, becomes “we’re stopping your tax dollars from paying for abortion.”

Which brings me back to the facts I mentioned earlier. This rule does not fund abortion. This blurring of the lines between family planning and abortion is as purposeful as it is disingenuous. The Hyde Amendment does not allow federal dollars for abortion. Republicans tacitly acknowledge this every time they try to make it permanent. Instead, this rule, in the words of an LA Times op-ed, “bars recipients of federal family planning dollars — usually state health departments — from refusing to pass that money along to clinics or healthcare centers for reasons unrelated to their ability to provide Title X services.” These services being funded, again, don’t include abortion. The funding is used for contraception, counseling, pregnancy tests, STD screening, and yes, screenings for cervical and breast cancer.

The reason the rule was necessary in the first place is that states were setting criteria for funding that were specifically designed to cut off the flow of funding to Planned Parenthood. Federal money was going to these state health organizations, who in turn were setting criteria unrelated to what Title X was intended to fund in order to fabricate a reason to take money from an organization they don’t like. It was, like we saw with Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, the use of (or occasionally wholesale rejection of) federal dollars in order to inflict harm on political opponents. The Obama administration said this type of blackmail was no longer allowed, and now, Congress wants to make that end-run around the laws we have on the books regarding abortion legal again.

This isn’t about moral objection to abortion. This isn’t about making it legal or keeping it illegal. This is, simply put, inflicting financial harm on health care providers in order to claim a scalp in the Abortion Wars. Every Democrat should oppose it.