March 29, 2018
Back home for Easter weekend, I'm hearing from plenty of Members of Congress. Their constituents weren't happy with the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to begin with, but they're irate that Congress co-signed another massive check to America's largest abortion business.
The refrains on social media are all the same: Republicans control the Hill and the White House. Why aren't they defunding Planned Parenthood? By now, the entire country has seen the ghoulish videos; they've heard the criminal evidence; they know these centers are destroying an innocent life every 98 seconds. They're right to be upset. I am too. But we also need to remember the limits of the process. If pro-lifers want to do what a 51-member majority in the Senate can't, it's time to start thinking creatively.
First, Congressional Budgeting 101. Planned Parenthood gets the bulk of federal taxpayer funding from two pools: one that's a discretionary program -- Title X family planning -- and others that are mandatory, like Medicare/Medicaid. It breaks down this way: Planned Parenthood gets about $80 million of the $286 million in Title X, but more than $400 million in reimbursements from mandatory programs like Medicaid. In both, there are areas that conservatives can attack -- with or without Congress. There's the statutory approach, which would mean passing a spending bill to defund Planned Parenthood (like the House did last year, only to watch it fall short of the 60 votes it needed in the Senate). Or they could tackle the funding for Planned Parenthood in mandatory programs through budget reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes. The Republican majority succeeded in defunding Planned Parenthood on its 2015 health care repeal, but President Obama vetoed it. Last August, they tried again -- only to fall short in the Senate.
The other approach to defund Planned Parenthood is regulatory. That's where HHS comes in. If you want to know how powerful the agency is in directing government funds, think back to Obama. With a simple HHS regulation, he stopped all 50 states from defunding abortion providers under Title X. Fortunately, Congress overturned that rule last year, and more states are moving to cut ties with Richards's group than ever.
Obviously, pro-lifers can't change the situation in the Senate. Without a 60-vote majority, Republicans can only defund Planned Parenthood through the very strict reconciliation process. But, as Ben Domenech has been saying for three years, "There is a potential opportunity for an enterprising presidential candidate to draw a line in the sand on Planned Parenthood." How? He explains:
Back in 1988, Ronald Reagan's HHS announced an expanded interpretation of abortion funding prohibition regarding Title X funds, determining that no organization which encouraged or promoted abortion would receive federal funds. The left denounced this approach as a 'gag rule' and a potential First Amendment violation. This led to the case, several years later, of Rust v. Sullivan before the Supreme Court – which ultimately vindicated Reagan's rule. But the policy was discarded during the Clinton presidency and never fully restored.
Right now, no organization is allowed to use the government's family planning dollars for abortion. Planned Parenthood gets around that law, Domenech explains, by drawing an "artificial line" between its abortion clinics and its other family planning services -- "even when those are located in the same facility, and essentially funded jointly." If President Trump reinstated Reagan's "co-location" rule, Planned Parenthood could still get Title X funds, but they wouldn't be able to offer those services in the same clinics where they perform abortions. They'd have to split up their offices -- probably at great expense. Ultimately, Planned Parenthood would be forced to choose between dropping their abortion services from any location that gets Title X dollars or moving those abortion operations offsite. Either way, it puts a major dent in the group's bottom line.
What's more, Yuval Levin pointed out when the reconciliation bill failed in 2015, "The Supreme Court has already vindicated Ronald Reagan's rule on the matter, meaning that the next president could lawfully adopt the same approach to determining how these funds are distributed -- and in one act dramatically undercut Planned Parenthood." Lucky for us, that "next president" happens to be pro-life. And if he's as frustrated with Planned Parenthood's taxpayer-funded piggy bank as the rest of us, this is one way he can do something big about it.
Conservatives will get another crack at Planned Parenthood's federal gravy train -- hopefully soon. Until then, $80 million they get under Title X is a major step to the ultimate goal: ending taxpayers' forced partnership with abortion for good.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.