Leahy Slams The Latest Republican-Led Rule Rollback, Which Threatens Women’s Access To Health Care, Especially In Rural Areas

[Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday presided over the U.S. Senate to cast a tie-breaking vote to end debate on a controversial bill to disapprove Obama-era rules that prevented states from restricting funds available to clinics through Title X of the Public Health Service Act.  This is the 12th time this year that Republicans have rammed through legislation to kill Obama-era rules on topics ranging from clean and water and climate change regulations, to worker safety, to women’s health, using the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used law that significantly restricts the rule-making power of executive agencies.  Congressional disapproval of this rule will mean that states can deny federal funding to local health centers that provide essential health care to women, particularly in rural areas with limited access to quality health care.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) voted against this shortsighted use of the Congressional Review Act, as he has on the other 11 Republican-led rollbacks.  His full statement on the Title X rollback is BELOW.]


Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

On H.J.Res 43, Congressional Resolution of Disapproval on Title X 

Another Attack On Health Care For Women

March 30, 2017

Three months into the 115th Congress, the Senate has yet to consider real legislation aimed at addressing the many challenges Americans face today.  Instead, the Senate is with simple majority votes -- permissible through the rarely used Congressional Review Act -- is rolling back key protections for the American people put in place by the last administration.  Never mind that the current administration has the power to address certain aspects of regulations that they wish to rewrite.  No, Republicans in Congress are intent on using this blunt procedure to unravel years of careful and deliberative work.  These raw power plays are part of the Trump-Republican “know-nothing, anti-science” agenda, in which the winners typically are wealthy and powerful special interest and big polluters, and the losers are ordinary Americans.

Today, we are considering the 12th such resolution, one that rolls back protections under the Title X program.  Title X of the Public Health Service Act is the only Federal grant program dedicated to providing those eligible with comprehensive family planning and preventative health services.  In rural areas like Vermont, Title X is crucial in making sure that women have access to the basic health care they need. 

Unfortunately, in recent years some states have made exceptions about which providers may deliver services under Title X, excluding family planning clinics.  Seeing the burden these rules would place on women seeking health care, the Obama administration finalized a regulation in December 2016 that protects these providers from this type of discrimination, and women from these hardships.  The resolution we are considering today would undo this regulation, once again allowing states to discriminate against providers, thereby limiting access to health care services for millions – yes, millions -- of women and their families.  Worse still, the resolution would prevent any similar rule or regulation from being implemented in the future.

In Vermont, our sole Title X provider is Planned Parenthood.  Even in a state as rural as Vermont, no one has to drive longer than 45 minutes to reach a clinic.  That type of access is critical for those who need these services.  This is especially important, because for 40 percent of women, their visit to a family planning health center is the only health care they receive during the year.  Vermonters are lucky because our state recognizes that this issue isn’t about abortion — it is about ensuring the best network of providers for the people of our state.  But other states have already worked to undermine family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, and passage of this resolution will allow these discriminatory efforts to advance.

This resolution would affect the lives of millions of American women, men and young people who trust and depend on family planning clinics for their basic health care needs, including for annual health exams, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and HIV screenings.  Last year in Vermont, Planned Parenthood centers provided vital primary and preventive services to more than 16,000 patients.  In a small state like Vermont, this harmful impact cannot be overstated.

Proponents of this resolution argue that states should be able to determine who receives Title X grants and that women under this program can find another clinic to go to.  This is simply not the case.  It is false.  It is a lie.  Family planning clinics overwhelmingly serve populations in rural and medically underserved parts of the country where access to health care, especially for low-income individuals, is difficult. 

What this partisan resolution would do is force women and families in states who depend on family planning clinics for their health care to try to find another doctor, where few are available, or, more likely, go without care at all.  That undermines all of our efforts to strengthen our Nation’s health care system and to ensure access to care for everyone.

Unfortunately, this Republican resolution marks just the latest overreach and intrusion into women’s health care.  Until the House failed to even take it up, the Senate was scheduled to consider a reconciliation bill this week that would have defunded Planned Parenthood and allowed health insurers to deny coverage for maternity care, thus requiring women to pay more for health insurance.  In the last Congress it was more of the same.  Should we walk back from the remarkable progress we have made as a Nation in women’s health?  Of course not.  But I am concerned that we still see this same irresponsible attack surfacing again and again.  It is 2017.  It is time for the mean-spirited and ideological assaults on women’s health care to end. 

Women are not second-class citizens.  They deserve the same access to care as men.  I urge Senators to vote against this resolution that will degrade the health care, and access to health care, of so many Americans.  

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