April 12, 2011 — While President Obama in budget negotiations last week was able to avert Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in fiscal year 2011, the budget agreement reached last week will cut roughly $38 billion in federal spending, including a funding cut for the Title X program, which helps finances the health care services provided by Planned Parenthood and other clinicsfrom $317 million to $300 million, according to congressional aides, the New York Times reports. Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees on Monday drafted the final wording of the bill, which is expected to come to a vote this week.
Obama said, "Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. ... Programs people rely on will be cut back; needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances" (Steinhauer/Pear, New York Times, 4/11).
Title X refers to a federal grant program established 40 years ago that funds helps finance the provision of reproductive health care services, including birth control counseling and supplies, pelvic and breast exams, cancer screening and STI testing, to low-income and uninsured women in more than 4,500 health centers nationwide. The continuing resolution (HR 1) approved by the House in February cut all funding for the program (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/10).
DC Officials Protest Budget Agreement
Meanwhile, 41 people, including District of Columbia Mayor Vince Gray and six city council members, were arrested for "unlawful assembly" as they protested a policy rider in the budget agreement that would prevent D.C. from using local funds to pay for abortion services, the Washington Post reports. More than 200 abortion-rights activists and district statehood rights supporters also rallied against a measure to expand a private school voucher program.
Gray and city leaders criticized federal lawmakers for not consulting with them before announcing the agreement and urged lawmakers not to support the spending bill (Pershing, Washington Post, 4/12). Gray said the budget deal is "completely unacceptable," adding, "If this isn't taxation without representation, I don't know what is." The city officials were dressed in business attire and sat down in the street outside a Senate office building. They were released from jail several hours later (Gresko, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/12).
Editorial Says Budget Agreement ‘Sold Out’ District of Columbia
"House Republicans had been pressing for restrictions on federal funding of Planned Parenthood but instead accepted the counteroffer barring the district from using local money to give low-income women access to elective abortions," a Washington Post editorial. The "trade-off of D.C. abortion rights is absurd," the editorial continues, adding that district officials who were arrested for protesting were "rightly outraged at being sold out." According to the editorial, Democrats and Republicans are divided on federal spending but what unites them is "their utter disregard -- if not contempt -- for those who make their home in the District of Columbia," the Post writes.
The editorial concludes, "It's infuriating that Republicans who invoke the sanctity of democracy and local control when it's convenient forget those values when it comes to the district. It's disappointing that Democratic leaders who profess to support the district -- most prominently, Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) -- view the city's right to self-government as a principle that can be bargained away for the best price" (Washington Post, 4/11).
Abortion-Rights Groups Report Activism Surge
The entire budget battle has produced an "unprecedented surge in activism" for organizations that support reproductive rights, Politico reports. Online gifts to Planned Parenthood have jumped by 500%, membership on the group's Facebook fan page increased by 992% and more than 810,000 people signed a petition denouncing the amendment to defund the organization introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). NARAL Pro-Choice America's e-mail list has grown by 1,000 subscribers per day, Politico reports.
NARAL President Nancy Keenan said, "This was such a clear attack on contraception, women's health and abortion care. It's been good to see the party committees engaging in choice-related issues in ways they have not in the past."
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said, "If the federal budget proposal had simply said, 'We're going to eliminate family planning funding,' I don't think people would have been as concerned. ... But [House Republicans] literally went after Planned Parenthood. For the first time, I think, the next generation of pro-choice women and men saw that the attack was real. It would affect their lives. It wasn't hypothetical like last year's debate; it really connected the personal with the political."
According to Politico, the organizations now face the challenge of keeping "new supporters engaged as the budget threat recedes into the background" (Kliff, Politico, 4/12).