- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2017

President Trump signed into law the first major national pro-life bill in more than a decade, freeing states to withhold federal family planning money from Planned Parenthood and other clinics that also perform abortions.

The Obama administration had issued a last-minute rule trying to prevent GOP-led states from discriminating against abortion providers, insisting that all women’s health clinics be treated the same. But Republicans, aided by Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, have now erased that rule.

“This is a major pro-life victory,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

While federal taxpayer money is already generally prohibited from paying for abortions, money can still be sent to abortion clinics as long as it goes to pay for other services.

In recent years, however, more than a dozen states have moved to strip Planned Parenthood of government funding as questions arose about the organization’s operations. In particular, lawmakers in Republican-led states were reacting to a series of undercover videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses.

The Obama administration objected, and moved late last year to tie states’ hands, prompting Republicans on Capitol Hill to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Obama rule.

Mr. Trump signed the bill behind closed doors. His spokesman said the president’s signature was a way of restoring state flexibility.

“Our federal system was set up to allow states to address their own unique needs,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. “The president has restored respect for states’ rights on this issue.”

But the debate on Capitol Hill centered less on states’ rights and more on Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider.

“People are tired of mostly white, male politicians making decisions about our health care, rights or communities — without input,” the group’s advocacy arm said Thursday.

It complained that the bill passed without any hearings, and “without a majority.”

That was apparently a reference to the Senate floor debate, where two Republicans joined Democrats in opposition to the bill, leaving the chamber deadlocked 50-50. Mr. Pence cast the tie-breaking vote.

The new law applies to Title X federal family planning money, which was budgeted for $300 million this year. Planned Parenthood’s network of 661 clinics collects about a fifth of that money.

The bulk of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from Medicaid reimbursements, which weren’t affected by the law.

Planned Parenthood says most of its business is not tied to abortions, but rather to providing broader health services such as birth control and cancer screenings to women — exactly the services Title X money is meant to fund.

Democrats said that if abortion clinics are excluded from Title X money, women won’t be able to get the care they need.

“This measure is only the latest effort in Republicans’ crusade against women’s health care,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “From the White House to the Congress, Republicans are obsessed with obstructing women’s access to comprehensive health care services.”

States that want to restrict funding counter that there are more than 10,000 qualified community health centers, so stripping money from Planned Parenthood won’t hurt women’s ability to get care.

The Guttmacher Institute reported that in 2010, Planned Parenthood affiliates accounted for 13 percent of clinics receiving Title X money but served 37 percent of Title X clients.

After Mr. Trump’s signature Thursday, Democrats vowed political retribution on the GOP for pushing the new law.

“Today guarantees that a woman’s ability to get lifesaving care, birth control and make her own health care decisions will all be on the ballot in 2018,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said.

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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