Politico: Planned Parenthood praises POTUS

This article originally appeared in Politico and on Politico.com on March 31, 2011.

Planned Parenthood praises POTUS
By: MJ Lee

After taking flak from Planned Parenthood during the health care debate last year, President Barack Obama has returned to its good graces, garnering praise from a group whose federal funding is at stake in the heated budget debate with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Obama has said he does not want a federal budget that includes provisions to slash funding for several organizations that social conservatives, including many Republicans, oppose. Members of the Obama administration have also had low-profile meetings with abortion rights advocates, according to sources who have knowledge of the talks. And groups like Planned Parenthood that have been targeted by conservatives largely feel reassured by the positive signals the White House has thus far shown on protecting their funding.

“We have a positive relationship with the Obama administration, and we applaud its strong commitment to reproductive health, family planning and preventive health care,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood, said in a statement to POLITICO. “President Obama has reinforced this commitment by calling for an increased investment in an essential women’s health care program” in his latest budget.

The statement, issued Tuesday, is a reversal of fortune for Obama: Though he won Planned Parenthood’s endorsement for president in early 2008, the group has been frustrated with some of his decisions since taking office.

White House support for Planned Parenthood could further complicate budget negotiations with Republicans, who have vowed that every federally funded program will face cuts. Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, have said that any provisions that defund the family planning nonprofit would be a “deal breaker.”

Planned Parenthood found itself at the center of the budget debate when House Republicans passed $60 billion in spending cuts in February. The resolution included a $317 million cut in family-planning-related funding. Though the bill stalled in the Senate, abortion rights supporters have anxiously watched the White House for cues.

A year earlier, Obama had acceded to GOP demands that he include a provision in the health care law restricting federal funding for abortion as a medical procedure. Planned Parenthood expressed its dissatisfaction in a statement about the president’s decision.

“We regret that a pro-choice president of a pro-choice nation was forced to sign an executive order that further codifies the proposed anti-choice language in the health care reform bill,” Cecile Richards, the group’s president, said last March.

But in a news conference on March 11, Obama signaled he would not accept a budget proposal that included any provisions slashing the budgets for federally funded programs that social conservatives don’t like, including Planned Parenthood.

“Let’s not try to sneak political agendas into a budget debate,” Obama said. “If Republicans are interested in social issues that they want to promote, they should put a bill on the floor of the House and promote it, have an up-or-down vote, send it over to the Senate. But don’t try to use the budget as a way to promote a political or ideological agenda.”

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, told POLITICO the group has consulted with the White House on a “regular basis” and expressed confidence the administration is committed to blocking any bill that includes abortion restrictions. “The White House has been steadfast in its position,” she said.

The White House would not comment on its contact with abortion rights supporters. “We communicate with a wide variety of organizations on a regular basis,” an administration official told POLITICO.

But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, said the strategy reveals “without question” that Obama “is the most important ally that Planned Parenthood has.” And that, she said, could have consequences for the larger budget battle.

The White House “has got to have the attitude of close scrutiny on whether government-funded programs are achieving their goals or not,” Dannenfelser said. “If Planned Parenthood doesn’t get cut, then what about the bigger web of entitlements?”

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