House Republicans released a budget proposal this week that would eliminate funding for the Title X program, a decades-old network of family planning providers offering birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing, and reproductive health treatment to millions of low-income women across the country.
The Title X program was first created in 1970 under former President Richard Nixon. Back then, federally-funded family planning services had broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the government’s role in making birth control more accessible to impoverished Americans. “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition,” Nixon declared at the time.
Since then, the GOP position has shifted considerably. Spurred by concerns that some Title X providers — like Planned Parenthood — also function as abortion clinics, conservative lawmakers have set their sights on stripping funding from the federal program. In 2011, House Republicans voted along party lines to dismantle Title X.
These legislative attacks on the family planning program have so far been rebuffed by a Democratic-controlled Senate. However, now that Republicans control the Senate, it’s possible that Congress’ final budget could include the elimination of Title X this year.
The proposal from the House Appropriations Committee also seeks to roll back much of the Affordable Care Act, eliminate most of the federal funding for comprehensive sex ed and teen pregnancy prevention programs, and give employers more power to refuse to cover reproductive health care services they object to. The committee is holding a hearing on the proposal on Wednesday morning.
Reproductive rights advocates and family planning providers are sounding the alarm about the disastrous consequences of cutting Title X, which is already suffering serious budget shortfalls on both the state and federal levels.
“This is politics at its worst. Cutting the Title X Family Planning program could leave nearly 4.6 million people without care,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “If Republican leaders in Congress think they can take away millions of women’s access to health care and shut down programs that are reducing teen pregnancy without one hell of a fight, they have another thing coming.”
According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, about 20 million women in the United States need access to publicly funded contraception, and Title X clinics have historically only been able to meet about a third of that need. The situation has been getting even worse in recent years. After the most recent economic recession, more Americans slipped into poverty and Title X’s patient load increased — but its budget didn’t. Now, the unmet need for affordable birth control has grown significantly, and some of the poorest women in the country are failing to get connected to the family planning services they need.
“The network of publicly funded family planning providers that has long been underfunded has already been eroded,” Clare Coleman, the president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), said in a statement in response to House Republicans’ latest budget proposal. “Fewer resources would set off a cascade of effects that would push the family planning safety net beyond its breaking point — prompt health center closures, force layoffs among clinicians and administrators, and severely cripple service delivery capacity, all of which translate to fewer women and men who would be able to access the critical health care they need.”
Advocates like Coleman say that it doesn’t make any sense to slash funding for Title X because the program has been proven to save money in the long term. Every public dollar spent on family planning results in a net savings of about $7.09, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute, because of the dramatic reduction in government services that would have otherwise been devoted to unintended pregnancies and births.
Some GOP leaders recognize the financial benefits of Title X. Earlier this year, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s audit of federal anti-poverty programs acknowledged that the program is “moderately effective” at providing low-income women with health services.