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Romney takes on family planning

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One part of Mitt Romney’s new fiscal plan that’s gotten less notice is his proposal to eliminate Title X, the only federal program devoted to family planning. This wades into an issue that has challenged congressional Republicans — and one that none of Romney’s competitors have touched. Elaine Thompson Associated Press Mitt Romney

Created in 1970 during the Nixon years, Title X covers reproductive health services like birth control, STD screenings, and cervical-cancer exams. In 2008, the program reached about 5 million Americans, mostly women. While the program does provide funds to abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, federal law bars the program from covering abortion procedures.

Title X has proved a tricky issue for the GOP in this Congress. Many Republicans support the idea of federal funding for reproductive health services. That includes Rep. Mike Pence, an ardent anti-abortion advocate who has pushed aggressively to end Planned Parenthood’s funding. “I’ve never advocated reducing funding for Title X,” Pence told an Indiana radio station earlier this year. “Title X clinics do important work in our inner cities. They provide health services for women and children that might not otherwise have access to them.”

But in a tough fiscal climate, conservatives argued that the program should be jettisoned as a means of reducing spending. Two Republican budget proposals this year would have zeroed out the program’s funding. While most supported the measure, including Pence, some broke ranks. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska wrote a constituent noting that she wouldn’t support eliminating the fund. Sen. Susan Collins also took issue with the provision. “Sen. Collins is a longtime supporter of the Title X family planning program, and she believes the House’s decision to completely eliminate the funding is unwise,” Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley told me in the middle of the budget debate. “The program has successfully reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, therefore helping to reduce health care costs.”

In calling for Title X’s defunding, Romney is a bit of a rarity. No other candidate has taken a stand on the issue. Anti-abortion groups haven’t asked candidates to oppose Title X. The Susan B. Anthony List, for example, only goes as far as asking candidates to pledge to “defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions,” but not eliminate Title X outright. In moving to eliminate Title X, Romney is venturing into a new territory where the party doesn’t have much in the way of a definitive platform.

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