The need for tie-breaking votes in the Senate isn't exactly common — former Vice President Joe Biden never once had to break a Senate tie in eight years — but on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence cast his second tie-breaking vote since being sworn in in January, this time to allow the withholding of Title X federal funds to family planning and reproductive health care clinics (including, you guessed it, Planned Parenthood). The implications of the bill's restrictions are wide-reaching, but if having kids could be on the horizon for you, you'll probably want to pay attention to some of the ways cutting Title X funding could affect new moms.
According NBC News, the passing of the Senate vote this week signals a repeal of President Barack Obama's December 2016 regulation that many had celebrated as a kind of last hurrah for his administration. The rule prohibited states from cutting Title X grants to clinics on the basis that they offer abortion services, an aspect that has long made them a target for Republican ire. But what the Obama rule emphasized was that the bulk of the care provided by clinics like Planned Parenthood and other Title X clinics actually includes much-needed reproductive health care services like prenatal care, cancer screenings, STD tests and access to contraception. Millions of Americans — especially those who are low-income or who have other barriers to healthcare access — rely on those services, and Title X funds help ensure that they are able to.
Despite the fact that the GOP has a 52-48 Senate majority, the tie occurred when two Republicans, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, voted against cutting Title X. In an interview Thursday with Alaska Dispatch News, Murkowski said she voted against the bill because it "allows states to make [the] determination that they are going to further limit access to care for women," something she said was "taking us backwards."
What's also majorly troubling though is that basing an argument against Title X funding because of access to abortion services is hugely misguided. That's because clinics have never been able to use federal funds for abortions since Title X was first enacted in 1976, according to Quartz. In other words, it seems that the only thing the bill will actually accomplish will be making it harder for already-marginalized Americans to get the necessary (and sometimes life-saving) health care they need.
Regardless of where you stand on abortion, it's pretty clear that Title X funding helps provide necessary healthcare services for women. And if that funding is restricted, pregnant women or new mothers could be harmed in a number of different ways:
1. Accessing Contraception May Become More Difficult
One of the most important functions of clinics like Planned Parenthood is the fact that they provide access to contraception. In fact, of the more than 2.4 million Americans that receive care from one of the country's 650 Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers each year, and approximately 80 percent receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy. As a result, Planned Parenthood estimates that as many as 579,000 unintended pregnancies are averted each year because they are able to offer their services.
Of course, contraception isn't just an issue of importance to new mothers, but if you've just had a child and aren't looking to have another anytime soon, being able to access a reliable and affordable method of birth control is going to be a big deal. According to Stanford Health Policy Veteran Affairs Health Services Research and Development Follow Dr. Meenadchi Chelvakumar, Title X recipient Planned Parenthood is the most prominent safety-net provider of women’s reproductive services in the country, and is one of the best places patients who receive publicly-supported contraceptives can go to access them.
Currently, an estimated 91 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are able to offer approximately 77 percent of reversible contraceptive methods to patients (while similar community health clinics often offer only 48 to 53 percent), and Planned Parenthood clinics are also "much more likely to provide onsite access and refills for contraceptive pills." Without proper funding though, clinics like Planned Parenthood may be less able to offer this much needed service, leaving far too many women at risk of having to navigate future pregnancies before they are ready.
2. Well-Woman Checkups Will Likely Decline
Although Planned Parenthood doesn't expressly offer postpartum medical care, it does offer well-woman checkups, which are medical exams usually done about once a year, that help offer preventative care, and also identifying risk factors for certain health conditions. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, well-woman visits are "a fundamental part of medical care," and can be an important time to confidentially discuss with a doctor any health concerns or questions you might have.
For many women who can't afford or have other issues accessing routine health care, these checkups (which are offered on a sliding fee scale) can be invaluable. And if you're a new mom, the can be a time to discuss any health concerns related to your postpartum body, like menstrual cycle changes, any issues with your pelvic health or breasts as a result of pregnancy or nursing, sexual health issues, or literally anything else that might need to be discussed, including postpartum mental health concerns. Regular health care is of course important for all women regardless of whether they've had kids, but given the immense physical and mental changes that accompany new motherhood, it seems particularly important that women be able to access medical professionals during that time.
3. Cancer Screening Rates May Decrease
Another incredibly value service offered by Planned Parenthood and similar clinics is cancer screening. According to CNN, Planned Parenthood provides approximately 270,000 pap smears to patients each year, which helps screen for cervical cancer, as well as an estimated 360,000 breast exams. Again, these tests have nothing to do with abortion, but instead offer medical care for women that can literally be life-saving. And making it harder for clinics like Planned Parenthood to operate by Title X funding only means that the health of women will be put at risk.
4. Outreach Programs For Mothers May Disappear
In addition to straight-up medical care, Planned Parenthood also offers educational and outreach programs. In Ohio, for example, the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program provides in-home visits from Community Care Coordinators to pregnant, high-risk African American women throughout their pregnancies and until their babies turn 2 years old. The program was designed to help reduce the risk of infant mortality or very low birth weight deliveries among women who often have trouble accessing prenatal care. And cutting funding only means that the people who stand to be helped the most by these programs will be the ones most likely to be harmed.
5. It May Be Harder To Access Future Prenatal Care
Even if contraception seems like a much more pressing issue than prenatal care when you've just had a baby, it's totally possible that new moms might be needing assistance for future pregnancies within the next few years. And since prenatal care is such an incredibly important aspect of pregnancy outcomes and infant development, it's no surprise that prenatal care makes up yet another aspect of Title X care that really needs to continue to exist.
Though anti-abortion groups often attempt to argue that health clinics that offer abortion services do not actually provided comprehensive prenatal care, Yale University Political Science Lecturer Miranda Yaver told Vocativ that Planned Parenthood acts a lot more like a regular outpatient health care clinic than many people realize. Yaver said, “A lot of [PP] clinics do provide primary care and prenatal care," and for many pregnant women, that means that they don't have to end up in the emergency room when issues may pop up during their pregnancies. That ultimately saves taxpayer money, and helps relieve the burden placed on hospitals, but unfortunately that aspect is often left out of the conversation over issues like Title X funding. As Yaver explained,
Planned Parenthood does a tremendous amount of preventative care, but because of this really quite small portion of their work that is more controversial tied to abortion, that tends to be what winds up in the news and the source of political entanglements, even though we don’t actually allocate federal funds to abortion services.
Despite the implications of cutting Title X, Trump and the GOP have made no secret that they've considered it to be a priority. Defunding Planned Parenthood was one of Trump's campaign promises, according to Politico, and within days of his inauguration, he signed an executive order prohibiting federal aid to foreign organizations that provide or promote abortion. Title X, it seems, was just the next item on the checklist.