The Post-Dispatch: Planned Parenthood funding a final obstacle in shutdown negotiations

This article first appeared online at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 8, 2011.

Planned Parenthood funding a final obstacle in shutdown negotiations
BY Bill Lambrecht

WASHINGTON — In the final hours before the government exhausts spending authority, the long-standing issue of abortion emerged as a main obstacle in negotiations.

The House thus far apparently has stuck by an amendment that would eliminate more than $300 million from the Title X program that supports a range of Planned Parenthood services, from cancer screenings to HIV testing.

Republicans, who passed a budget bill Thursday that included the cuts, argue that taxpayer money should not support an organization like Planned Parenthood that has abortion services as a primary purpose.

“We have a long history in Congress of pro-life protections being part of budget debates,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Republican Study Committee in the House, told reporters this afternoon.

The 35-year-old Hyde Amendment — named for former Ill. Rep. Henry Hyde — prohibits the using federal funds for abortion. Nonetheless, supporters of the cuts argue that the money for health services should be redistributed away from abortion providers.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was among Democratic women senators who said they were angry that womens’ health issues had emerged as a late obstacle in the debate.

“It is illegal to use any federal money for abortions. This is about women being able to get family planning services and cancer screenings at many clinics across the country,” she said in an interview on MSNBC this afternoon.

“Let’s cut this spending and let’s save for another day our debates on divisive social issues,” she said.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, said: “This is not even a debate any more about serious budget cuts…The real breakdown seems to have been some of these ideologically motivated riders that Republicans have been pushing.” 

But Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town & Country, said that the level of spending that Senate Democrats will accept remains the stumbling block.

If the Senate is concerned about women’s programs, he said, they could strip the Title X amendment from the House-passed legislation and then return it to the House for concurrence.

“They would like to try to paint us as a bunch of crazy pro-lifers trying to shut the government down,” he said.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is among GOP senators who believes that the Planned Parenthood amendment is “extraneous,” he told reporters a short time ago. 

“I don’t think we should single out Planned Parenthood for a 100 percent cut,” Kirk said.

The Susan B. Anthony List, an organizaton that promotes pro-life women in politics, issued a statement contending that the White House is singling out Planned Parenthood for special attention.

“It is extraordinary that the president sees federal funding for the nation’s number one abortion provider as more important than paychecks for federal workers and funding for our military,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the group, said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards issued a statement of her own, saying that the rider in question “would bar Planned Parenthood from being paid by Medicaid and other federal programs for providing women with birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing and testing for other sexually transmitted diseases.”

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