March 12, 2018 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

Kim Krisberg wrote last week about some alarming differences in the new funding announcement for the Title X program, which supports reproductive health services for millions of lower-income women and men across the country. She highlighted health advocates’ concerns about several aspects of the new announcement (which allows providers to apply for Title X funds), including its failure to reference CDC’s “Providing Quality Family Planning Services” recommendations, its prioritization of abstinence-only sex education activities, the lack of language reaffirming adolescents’ right to confidential services, and an apparent attempt to steer funding away from providers that offer comprehensive family planning.

In addition, POLITICO’s Jennifer Haberkorn has reported two more disturbing pieces of news related to Title X. One is that the selection of Title X funding recipients will now be made by a single person, the deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. “Since 1987 and until now, final decisions were made by a regional health official along with the HHS deputy assistant secretary for population affairs and the assistant secretary for health, according to language in applications distributed in prior years,” Haberkorn writes. The current acting deputy assistant secretary now solely in charge of the selection is Valerie Huber, a proponent of abstinence-only sex education who is suspected of orchestrating the early termination of grants advancing evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention.

A day later, Haberkorn and Sarah Ferris reported that House Republicans are now demanding that the Labor-HHS appropriations bill eliminate Title X funding altogether and prohibit federal payments to Planned Parenthood (Democrats say they were stunned at Republicans reneging on their agreement; I suspect they weren’t really all that surprised, given House Republicans’ appalling history on Title X). “The dispute has stalled negotiations on other health issues, such as how much to spend on the opioid epidemic and prompted discussions about buying negotiators more time, with short-term government funding set to expire on March 23 and many of Congress’ other spending panels nearly finished with their bills,” Haberkorn and Ferris note.

Planned Parenthood serves around 40% of Title X clients, and asking all those people to stop seeing their preferred provider is disruptive and could result in many missing out on needed care (and, no, those clients can’t all just go to community health centers instead). When Texas decided to stop payments to Planned Parenthood, the state’s rates of teen births and teen abortions both rose. Having an effective family planning program requires a combination of sufficient funding and a network of providers that can deliver high-quality, comprehensive care — something Planned Parenthood has been doing well for decades.

Title X improves public health, saves the federal government money, and reduces the number of abortions — all things Republicans theoretically support. Are they more interested in preventing women from controlling their reproductive futures than they are in advancing public health and fiscal responsibility?

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