The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Sept. 7 a proposed rule that would effectively prevent states from prohibiting Title X funds for abortion providers.
The proposed rule includes the country's No. 1 abortion chain, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). The federal government provides funds for family planning and preventive health services to states through the Title X program.
In recent years, at least 12 states have cut money for Planned Parenthood, sometimes in response to scandals involving the organization. Courts have blocked those actions in some cases. The latest scandal involves the online release last year of secretly recorded videos that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described the HHS proposal as "yet another example of how entrenched and influential the abortion lobby is in our national politics."
"We know for a fact that taxpayer money doesn't need to go to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers in order for other medical services to be fully available to citizens," Moore said.
"This is merely a move of retribution against those who have called to keep abortion providers accountable," he said in written comments for Baptist Press.
Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., charged the Obama administration with taking "the unprecedented step of thwarting states' rights with a shady proposed rule change that prevents states from funding the providers who will best serve their citizens."
"This latest stunt from President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services should surprise absolutely no one," said Black, who led last year an ultimately unsuccessful effort to slash federal funding for PPFA.
"We've known all along [this administration] will go to untold lengths to protect its friends in the big abortion industry," including providing Planned Parenthood with grants under health-care reform and praising the organization after its trade in baby parts was uncovered, she said in a written statement.
Moore expressed his gratitude to Black for "calling this move what it is: a political favor for an unaccountable abortion industry."
PPFA President Cecile Richards applauded the HHS proposal.
"This will make a real difference in so many people's lives," she said. "This rule makes it clear that politicians cannot ignore the law as they pursue their agenda to stop women from getting the care they need."
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
The proposed rule does not explicitly block states from providing Title X funds to abortion providers. Instead, it bars states from basing the selection of Title X recipient organizations on anything other than their "ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner." As a result, states would be unable to block funds from going to organizations simply because they provide abortions.
According to federal law, Title X funds cannot be used for the performance of abortions, but pro-life advocates point out grants to Planned Parenthood and other providers free up other funds for use in performing abortions.
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that would have eliminated about 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's federal funding, but President Obama vetoed the bill in January. A House attempt to over-ride the veto fell far short of the two-thirds majority required.
The public may provide comment to HHS on the proposed rule until Oct. 7. Comments may be offered at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=HHS_FRDOC_0001-0645.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.