Republicans are using the appropriations process to attack women's health

The Senate Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act might have failed, but threats to health coverage continue. Despite the Senate’s plans for bipartisan hearings in September on ways to improve the individual insurance market, President Trump has created uncertainty over whether the government will continue providing subsidies that help hard-working American families afford coverage.

Amid the chaos and controversy, House Republicans have advanced their most aggressive attacks on women’s health ever through the annual Appropriations process.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee—the committee responsible for setting the federal government’s spending priorities—finished consideration of the annual spending bills for fiscal year 2018. Included in these must-pass bills are a number of add-on provisions, or riders, that are nothing more than poisonous, partisan priorities designed by Republicans to roll back years of progress on women’s rights and health. These measures are expected on the House floor when Congress returns to session in September.

The Financial Services & General Government bill would prevent American citizens from purchasing a private, multi-state health insurance plan in the exchange that includes comprehensive reproductive healthcare coverage. That contradicts what we’ve heard over and over from Republicans in the debate on ACA—that Americans should be able to purchase whatever insurance they want.

The Labor, Health, and Education bill eliminates funding for Title X family planning clinics, which provide low-income women—and men—with cancer screenings, contraception, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Republican claims that community health centers would absorb Title X patients if those clinics close is patently false. Community health center leaders in my district have emphatically told me they simply do not have the capacity to meet the increased demand that would come with the elimination of Title X family planning funding, particularly without any increase in their funding.

Support for Title X family planning services should be a bipartisan issue. Earlier this year, when HHS Secretary Tom Price came before the Appropriations Committee, he stated that Title X is often “an individual’s only line of opportunity to gain access to the kind of care they need.” The Trump fiscal year 2018 budget included funding for Title X, yet the House bill turns its back on the women who rely upon it.

The majority also turned their backs on proven methods of avoiding pregnancy, eliminating funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) while steering funding toward abstinence-only education. They also rejected my amendment to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from altering current availability of contraception without copay, a critical feature of the Affordable Care Act.

The attacks on women’s health don’t stop at our own borders.  The foreign assistance bill includes an unprecedented expansion of the Global Gag Rule, which would require any entity accepting U.S. foreign assistance funding for global health programs to have policies opposing abortion. What sense does it make for an organization narrowly focused on child blindness or polio or tuberculosis to delve into reproductive care policy? The administration doesn’t even yet have the results of its six-month review to understand the impacts of this misguided policy, which undermines our efforts to improve health and stability around the world and threatens the health of women.

On the House Appropriations Committee, where I am the top ranking Democrat, it is our job, on both sides of the aisle, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent in a way that keeps our citizens safe, healthy and secure. The Republican policy riders on this year’s appropriations bills are hostile to that mission.

That’s why I and several colleagues offered amendments to guarantee that women have access to necessary health services and are empowered to make health decisions based on their own needs and conscience, not on the dictates of politicians. These amendments included protecting free birth control coverage; maintaining Title X family planning funding; and striking the expansion of the Global Gag Rule and the ban on funding for the United Nations Population Fund, our primary partner for ensuring that women fleeing violence have safe maternal care and access to treatment from gender-based violence, like that perpetrated by ISIS.

Unfortunately, with control of Congress, Republicans blocked these amendments.

Every woman, regardless of where she lives, has a fundamental right to make healthy choices for herself and her family. It’s an issue of health and financial security, but also of matter of equality and empowerment. That’s why I will continue to embrace the responsibility of standing up against attacks on women’s health.

With all of the problems in the world, with all of the challenges we face at home and abroad, it’s unconscionable that congressional Republicans are working to gut women’s health. We must not forget this, even for a moment, as the nation’s attention focuses on the broader healthcare debate. There is too much at stake.

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