The elimination of more than $300 million in federal funding for women's health care centers, including Planned Parenthood, may well force a government shutdown at midnight tonight.
Republicans want to zero out Title X, a program implemented under Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970 to provide contraceptives, cancer screenings, and pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease testing at community health centers across the country.
Conservative lawmakers say the money indirectly subsidizes abortions, despite the fact that the federal Hyde Amendment expressly prohibits such use of taxpayer funds.
Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., repeated a Republican argument today that abortions are "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does."
Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest abortion provider, but it issued a fact sheet today stating that more than 90 percent of its health care services are preventive, not abortions. It receives about $70 million of Title X funding, and the company says none of the funds are used to fund abortions.
"It's an outrage to shut down the government over an extreme proposal that would deny millions of women Pap tests, breast cancer screenings and birth control," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
Richards said the company's 4,500 clinics serve an estimated 5 million low income women every year.
Democrats say Republicans are on an extremist crusade to put a "bulls eye on women in America" and undermine essential preventive health care services for millions of low-income women that rely on Planned Parenthood and other non-related centers every day.
"We are not – we are not! – bending on women's health," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today.
"This has no impact on the budget. It has no impact on the deficit or the debt," said Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski. "Where we will not go is eliminating the health care for women. Make no mistake, this entire debate has involved throwing women and children under the bus."
Mikulski and 40 fellow Senate Democrats have vowed to filibuster any budget deal that includes elilmination of Title X.
While much of the rhetoric has centered on abortion and Planned Parenthood, many smaller, religiously-affiliated health centers will also be impacted by the cuts.
"We don't perform abortions, but we'll be hit hard, too," said Jim Mangia, executive director of the St. John's Well Child and Family Center in south Los Angeles. "They're cutting people's ability to plan their families and get access to primary care."
Mangia said his center receives about $700,000 annually through Title X grants to provide reproductive health care testing and education to more than 50,000 patients in a low-income area of Los Angeles. The center is affliated with the Episcopal Church.
"It's going to hamper what we do greatly," said Rich Hill, executive director of the Our Saviour Center in El Monte, Calif., which received $79,000 a year under Title X. "We'd have to layoff two staff members immediately. And it will hurt our services. These people are desperate, and we're the alternative in California to expensive emergency room care."
But many Republicans say they're willing to take a stand on the Title X rider or any number of other controversial measures, eager to appeal to their conservative base while also achieving greater budget savings.
"This is a red herring to say that somehow the government is going to be shut down over the fact that Planned Parenthood won't get a $300 million gift from the taxpayers of America would be absolutely irresponsible," said Kyl. "If that's what the Majority Leader is saying, it is irresponsible."
"Planned Parenthood is a private non-profit organization that should be sustaining itself, and their corporate business model relies on abortions," said New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in an interview posted on the Susan B. Anthony List website.
"Abortion yields 37 percent of all Planned Parenthood revenues by conservative estimates," she said. "I don't think it's appropriate to provide taxpayer dollars."