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The House Decided to Undo a Rule That Was Protecting Planned Parenthood

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The House of Representatives struck a serious financial blow to women's health and abortion providers nationwide yesterday. In a 230-188 vote, the chamber voted to overturn a rule issued by President Obama shortly before he left office. Obama originally put the measure into place to effectively prevent states from withholding federal money allocated for family planning from organizations that provide these services, such as Planned Parenthood, on the basis of political or personal reasons alone.

It was yet another blow to Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of low-cost reproductive services for women, which relies on the millions in federal funding it receives to keep its more than 200 centers open nationwide. This move by the government is complicated, but the real-life consequences are direct. Here are the answers to some of the biggest questions you might have.

reIs it that easy to overturn a rule like this?

Short answer: Yes, but it's rarely done. To achieve this, Congress used the Congressional Review Act (CRA)—a law passed in 1996 that gives it the freedom to repeal orders from the executive branch within 60 days of them being passed. The Republican-led Congress is currently using the tool on five pieces of legislation passed by Obama—an unprecedented move. Before this, the mechanism had only been used successfully one time, in 2001.

What's the argument for overturning it?

Those in the GOP-led Congress who voted for the measure say that it's not a vote to defund Planned Parenthood, but rather a vote to "affirm the rights of states to fund the health care providers that best suit their needs without fear of reprisal from their own federal government."

What was the rule in the first place?

It took effect on January 18 and prohibited states from refusing to allocate federal family planning money to providers for reasons other than their ability to perform these services in an "effective manner." In other words, it prevented state officials from deciding that Planned Parenthood shouldn't receive money because of their personal beliefs about abortion or family planning, or for political-tied reasons.

Why should I care about this? I'm not exactly planning to get an abortion any time soon...

Overturning the rule gives states more freedom to decide where funds should go, which means money can now be taken away from any reproductive health care services or facilities (read: Planned Parenthood patients). Abortions make up just 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides each year, according to the organization's most recent annual report. Forty-five percent of the services provided that year were for actually for STD/STI testing, 31 percent for contraception, and 12 percent for other women's health services. In other words, stripping necessary funding from places like this doesn't just mean cutting off access to safe abortions, but access to basic things like birth control.

Do women actually depend on these places for care?

Yes. Beyond the fact that PP accepts Medicaid (helping women who can't afford treatment elsewhere), a steady decline in ob-gyns nationwide means that your options for reproductive care are disappearing. According to a recent report, there are just 29 gynos per 100,000 women in the country—and 28 metropolitan areas in the U.S. have zero. Sounds like American women need all the sexual health help we can get.

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