Maryland lawmakers are protesting pro-life updates to federal regulations by turning down nearly $4 million a year in family planning funding from the U.S. government that could have gone to women’s healthcare and crisis pregnancy centers.
In February, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued updates to Title X of the Public Health Service Act saying that abortion centers or facilities that refer for abortions cannot receive federal family planning dollars. Federal law says taxpayer money may not fund abortion, but in practice, Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities still received the funds, they just earmarked them for other services.
Pro-life advocates say the policy change ensures Title X funding serves its original purpose of helping families, not harming babies. More than 20 states sued the Trump administration over the regulations in March, and several state leaders previously threatened to withdraw from the Title X program entirely.
On Thursday, the Maryland House approved amendments to House Bill 1272, giving final passage to a measure that would reject Title X funds and replace them with state money.
Laura Bogley, director of legislation for Maryland Right to Life, told me the leaders of both chambers have 20 days from the end of the session to sign the bill and deliver it to Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. She said her organization has joined forces with National Right to Life and other pro-life groups to encourage people to contact the governor with calls and emails “to just respectfully ask him to veto this bill.”
“We’re tying our hands and just refusing that federal funding, which is on average about $4 million a year,” Bogley said. “[It] is just fiscally irresponsible, and we want the voters to communicate that to Gov. Hogan.”
If Hogan signs the bill, Maryland taxpayers have to come up with between $3 million and $4 million a year just for abortion providers. Maryland law requires recipients of state family planning funds to perform abortions and provide contraception. Pro-life pregnancy centers in the state can still access Title X funds by applying directly to the federal government, but it will create an administrative hassle and possible delays while abortion providers rake in extra state funds.
“This is a complete replacement,” Bogley said. “This is washing their hands of the federal money and saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, we don’t need the federal money, and so Maryland taxpayers are happy to pick up the tab for you, Planned Parenthood.’”
It’s uncertain whether Hogan will sign the bill, but Rachel Morrison, an attorney with Americans United for Life, told me she doesn’t think other states will follow Maryland’s example.
“It’s such a silly measure. It’s a power play, I think, to try to put political pressure on the HHS,” Morrison said. “I'd be surprised if other states are [following suit], because it’s silly to reject free money and to put the burden on your taxpayers.”