On Thursday afternoon, beady-eyed zealot Mike Pence was able to take action on a cause near and dear to his heart: his lifelong quest to deprive women of access to reproductive healthcare services.
The vice president cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate on a bill that would allow states to deny federal funding to family planning centers that also perform abortions, overturning an Obama-era rule enacted in a last-ditch effort to protect Planned Parenthood from the incoming hoard of GOP politicians eager to defund the organization.
If signed into law by President Trump, the measure will allow individual states to single out abortion providers and deny them Title X funding for purely political reasons—the previous rule only allowed an organization to be denied Title X funding if it was unable to provide patients with quality care.
The Title X Family Planning Program was originally created by Richard Nixon in 1970 in order to ensure that adequate, affordable family planning services were available to all Americans. According to Planned Parenthood, four million people on Title X for essential healthcare services, including cancer screenings, affordable birth control, and STI testing and treatment, and affordable birth control provided through Title X prevents one million unintended pregnancies a year. (Notably, Title X has nothing to do with abortion—under the Hyde Amendment, it's illegal for federal funds to go towards abortion care.)
Reproductive health advocates fear that this legislation will have a devastating effect on American women, and marginalized populations in particular. "Most Title X patients are low-income women, and disproportionately women of color, who are uninsured and ineligible for Medicaid," said NARAL Pro-Choice America in a statement. "Reversal of this rule could make it easier for state politicians to block a woman's access to contraception and critical preventive care at women's health clinics across the country."
Every Democratic senator voted against the measure, as did two Republicans: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In a particularly cinematic twist, in order for Republicans to reach the 50-50 deadlock that allowed Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson—who had been away getting two separate back surgeries—was flown into the capitol, and reportedly "hobbled into the Senate chamber on a walker" to raise his enfeebled thumb into the sky, having been cleared by his doctors to travel for one day only.
Just last night, Pence, who has been a particularly ardent and vicious opponent of Planned Parenthood, spoke at a White House panel on empowering women to commemorate the close of women's history month. "President Trump and our administration, I promise you, are gonna work tirelessly to empower women to be able to climb the ladder of opportunity," he told the rapt crowd. "Under President Trump's leadership, the future for our country, and the future for American women, is brighter than ever before."
The irony here is dizzying. "Four million people depend on the Title X family planning program, and this move by Washington politicians would endanger their health and wellbeing," said Dawn Laguens, the executive vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. "It is appalling that 24 hours ago, Vice President Pence was headlining a forum on empowering women, and today, he is leading mostly male politicians to take away women's birth control."