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Behind closed doors, Trump signs bill allowing states to strip federal family planning funds from abortion providers

Sean Spicer told the press that President Trump signed a bill allowing states to strip federal family planning funds from abortion providers on April 13. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump signed legislation Thursday allowing states to withhold federal family planning dollars from clinics that provide abortion services, a move that could deprive Planned Parenthood and several other family groups of tens of millions in funding.

The move marked the 12th time that Trump has signed a resolution under the 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA) to abolish a rule issued under President Barack Obama. Less than two hours later on Thursday, Trump signed a 13th measure, this one abolishing a Labor Department regulation aimed at expanding retirement savings accounts.

Although most of these ceremonies have taken place before the cameras, these two signings were closed to the press. The ceremony for the family planning rule was attended by Seema Verma, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; the leaders of the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America; one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.); and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.

How Trump is rolling back Obama’s legacy

While congressional Republicans have overturned several Obama-era rules with ease under the CRA — which allows lawmakers to nullify regulations within 60 legislative days of enactment as long as the president agrees — the elimination of the Health and Human Services regulation was more controversial. Vice President Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate on March 30 to send the bill to the president.

Trump did not issue a statement Thursday, though the White House announced that he had signed the bill. After the ceremony, Verma told reporters, “President Trump is delivering on his promise to give states the flexibility that they need to make health care decisions that best meet their citizens’ unique needs.”

Title X funding does not pay for abortions, because that is barred under federal law, but it does fund birth control, cancer screenings and both tests and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.

How Trump is rolling back Obama’s legacy

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, who attended the signing ceremony, said in a statement that the signing represented the latest example of Trump delivering on his promise to serve as an anti-abortion champion in the Oval Office.

“This week the pro-life movement had two huge victories: first, the swearing-in of Justice Gorsuch, and now, President Trump will undo former president Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” she said. “We expect to see Congress continue its efforts to redirect additional taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood through pro-life health-care reform after the spring recess.”

While GOP congressional leaders face some resistance in their efforts to completely defund Planned Parenthood, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called reversing the rule the Obama administration issued in December “a major pro-life victory.”

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“Taxpayers should not be forced to fund abortion, plain and simple,” Ryan said in a statement. “We remain united and steadfast in our commitment to life and religious liberty.”

Abortion-rights advocates, however, warned that the funding measure would deny as many as 4 million Americans access to family planning services. About 1.5 million Planned Parenthood patients benefit from Title X funds, according to the group, 78 percent of whom live with incomes of 150 percent of the federal poverty level and roughly one-third of whom are either Latino or African American.

“People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and this bill is just the latest example,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We should build on the tremendous progress made in this country with expanded access to birth control, instead of enacting policies that take us backward. Too many women still face barriers to health care, especially young women, women of color, those who live in rural areas, and women with low incomes.”