WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tina Smith embraced her past work with Planned Parenthood on Thursday as she pushed back at the Trump administration’s proposal to bar the organization from receiving federal family planning money.
Smith joined fellow Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state and leaders from Planned Parenthood and abortion rights organizations to denounce the plan in a conference call with reporters.
“I am on this call certainly as a proud United States senator, but also as a woman who served as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood and then was also an executive for the Planned Parenthood organization and health care centers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota,” Smith said. “This proposed rule is an affront to women.”
Trump this week proposed a rule to revoke federal Title X funding from Planned Parenthood and eliminate a requirement that funding recipients provide abortion counseling and referrals.
Smith is preparing for a special election in November against Republican state Sen. Karin Housley, who opposes abortion. Smith was a vice president at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota from 2003 to 2006, where among other work she lobbied at the Minnesota Capitol against efforts to oppose abortion rights.
“I do not support the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions,” Housley said in a statement. “Those dollars would be better spent at the many wonderful women’s health clinics across the state that provide real family planning services.”
Smith’s DFL primary opponent, Richard Painter, has said he supports abortion rights.
Issue in campaigns
Enacted in 1970, Title X is a federal grant program for family planning services, particularly for low-income people. Federal funds are prohibited from being used to pay for abortions.
Trump touted his opposition to abortion earlier this week at the Susan B. Anthony Campaign for Life gala, where he criticized Senate Democrats for obstructing a federal prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks (a bill that Smith opposes).
“For decades, Americans have been wrongfully forced to subsidize the abortion industry through Title X funding,” Trump told the crowd. He urged support for Republican candidates who oppose abortion in the 2018 elections, with control of the House and Senate at stake.
More female candidates
As a surge of women seek political office this year, the Trump administration’s record on abortion and reproductive health is expected to be a flash point in campaigns.
“We saw throughout the health care debate when women and men were faced with their access to quality health care being jeopardized by this administration, they stood up, they spoke out, they were loud, they were not quiet,” Murray said Thursday. She added that Trump’s latest move would energize abortion rights supporters.
Trump’s proposal has a so-called domestic gag rule, prohibiting Title X-funded facilities from making abortion referrals altogether. It would also require physical and financial separation of Title X-funded facilities where abortion is provided and those where it is not. Critics, including Smith, say it would dramatically increase the caseload at other facilities including federally qualified health centers.
While Smith has never shied away from her background, a spokesperson noted that she’s been particularly active in the fight to protect Title X.
Title X statistics
“It is as if President Trump and Vice President Pence are over the shoulder of the doctor or nurse telling them what they can tell their patient about what her health care options are, and I think that is flat-out wrong,” Smith said.
She noted a series of statistics compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that supports abortion rights. Minnesota has 40 Title X-funded sites that delivered contraceptive care to 61,280 women in 2015; Title X-funded Planned Parenthood centers served 71 percent of those women. The report claims that those services helped prevent 13,200 unintended pregnancies and 4,500 abortions.