Massachusetts lawmakers intend to spend up to $8 million on family planning programs, replacing the federal funds the Trump administration is expected to halt in early May for health centers that discuss abortion.
The House voted Wednesday to pass such a measure, and the Senate and Governor Charlie Baker are expected to approve.
“Once again, where Washington falls short, we in the Commonwealth are ready and willing to step up and fill the need and gap,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the House budget chief. “We in this House are ready to put the pieces back together that those in Washington are shattering.”
The House voted 139-14 in favor of an emergency bill to replenish the federal funding from the Title X program, which supports family planning and sexual health care services for low-income people. Services include birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and reproductive cancer screening services.
About 75,275 people received services in Massachusetts under the Title X program in 2017, according to Planned Parenthood. Most of them made less than $30,000 a year, Michlewitz said.
“We wanted to make sure that the Planned Parenthood facilities in particular were protected in providing health care services,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters after a Democratic caucus on Wednesday, noting that House members felt the need to take up the bill as quickly as possible. “We want to be prepared to make sure that these facilities are operating and they can provide health services for women.”
DeLeo said he was “extremely disappointed,” even “outraged” by Trump’s maneuver — but not surprised.
The Trump administration announced plans last spring to deny family planning funding to Planned Parenthood and other health care centers that either provide abortion or refer patients to clinics that do. It was a move long sought by abortion opponents, who want a brighter line to be drawn between abortion, for which federal funding is prohibited, and other types of reproductive care. But Planned Parenthood protested the policy, calling it a “gag rule” that would limit doctors from even discussing abortion and fairly assessing their patients’ alternatives.
The House move makes Massachusetts one of the first states to rebuke the Trump administration on family planning by providing an alternate funding stream. Maryland’s House of Delegates last week became the first state to vote to opt out of the Title X program completely to protect its abortion providers from the funding cuts, though that measure awaits approval by the Senate and governor.
The Massachusetts bill is expected to be approved by the Senate Thursday, and Baker said earlier this week that he discussed it with the leaders of both the House and Senate, and they agree on the need to replenish the funds.
“I think there’s unanimity among us that we should make sure that the federal policy change here does not affect women’s ability to access reproductive services in Massachusetts, period,” Baker told reporters.
But Massachusetts conservatives blasted the House move, calling it a “giveaway of our tax dollars to the abortion business.”
“Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill are rewarding a major campaign contributor, happy to send taxpayer dollars to them so they double down on their support next election cycle,” Chanel Prunier, executive director of the Renew Massachusetts Coalition, said in a statement. “Taxpayers should remember this the next time a local politician tells them there isn’t enough money for roads or schools, or suggests we need to raise taxes.”
“Abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds in the first place — particularly those related to family planning, as abortions are not ‘family planning,’ ” she said.
Massachusetts is among the many states that are continuing to challenge the Trump administration rule in court.
But Michlewitz argued on the House floor that Massachusetts should act now. “It is imperative that we not wait for the court to sort this one out. We cannot allow people’s health care to be put at risk because of the narrow-minded politics of the Trump administration.”
The House bill would replenish the $1.6 million that Massachusetts health clinics could lose before the end of the fiscal year, devoting $800,000 to the Department of Public Health, $428,500 to the Action for Boston Community Development and $375,750 to Health Imperatives.
But the bulk of the surplus spending is devoted to the following year, in anticipation of lost Title X funds.
“I’d like to forecast a future that looks a little bit more rosy,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. “But I think that, for now, the funding we have will cover the services for Planned Parenthood and the other family care planning providers around the state.”
“We shouldn’t have to rely on the state to step in,” Childs-Roshak added. “States really shouldn’t have to protect their residents from their own federal government.”