Budget & Tax , Health Care , Law & Principles , Culture & the Family

Oklahoma won’t promote abortion, so Biden administration yanks funds

Ray Carter | November 7, 2023

Attempting to force Oklahoma officials to promote abortion, the Biden administration has stripped the state of several million dollars in federal funds that normally pay for pregnancy tests, cancer screenings, depression screenings, and various other services.

The move is drawing strong pushback from Oklahoma officials at both the state and federal level.

“This is unfortunately the latest example of the Biden administration’s lack of concern for the well-being of Oklahomans and our commitment to protecting the unborn,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “The decision also runs counter to Congress’ desire that Title X funds cannot be used for abortions. In Oklahoma, we want to protect the unborn, the pregnant mothers, and provide essential services to those before, during, and after their pregnancy. I plan to work with our congressional delegation to do anything we can to reverse this decision to ensure vulnerable Oklahomans are cared for.”

In a memorandum released on Jan. 28, 2021, the Biden White House acknowledged that Title X of the federal Public Health Services Act “specifies that Title X funds may not be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning,” but announced that the administration was nonetheless going to end a prohibition on recipients of Title X funds referring patients to abortion providers.

In practice, that has translated into the Biden administration stripping Title X funds from states that do not use the funds to support abortion via referrals.

“If that’s the way they want it spent, then to me it’s tainted money and we should be proud of the fact that in Oklahoma we’re not going to succumb to that sort of pressure.” —State Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville)

Earlier this month, Oklahoma Health Commissioner Keith Reed told the State Board of Health that the Biden administration has yanked $4.5 million in federal Title X grants previously provided to Oklahoma state government.

But officials said the state will not be pressured into using taxpayer funds to promote abortion in Oklahoma.

“I think it is absurd to think that Oklahoma values can be bought,” said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “They can’t be.”

“Four-point-five million dollars as punishment for protecting life in this state, as punishment for acknowledging that abortion is not contraception, that it is not birth control—well, then I don’t mind losing that $4.5 million,” said state Sen. Julie Daniels, a Bartlesville Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “If that’s the way they want it spent, then to me it’s tainted money and we should be proud of the fact that in Oklahoma we’re not going to succumb to that sort of pressure.”

Echols noted the Biden administration’s action contradicts the spirit, if not the letter, of a longstanding provision of federal law referred to as the Hyde amendment, which prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions.

He called the Biden administration’s action “an extremist position by the federal government.”

Others also noted the Biden administration’s action appears to violate existing federal law.

“Their interpretation of Title X is wrong,” Daniels said.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has introduced federal legislation to clarify that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cannot discriminate against Title X grantees, including states, for their stance on protecting life.

U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin R-Westville, and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, joined Lankford in sponsoring the legislation.

“Many Oklahomans, especially those in rural areas with limited access to affordable health care, rely on (the) Oklahoma State Department of Health’s family planning program, which is funded through Title X grant awards. These services include cancer screenings, pregnancy prevention, STI diagnostics and treatment, breast exams, depression screenings and referrals, among a long list of other services,” Lankford said. “But the Biden Administration’s obsession with increasing the number of abortions in America is so extreme they are willing to deny needy Oklahomans health care access unless Oklahoma agrees to promote abortion. This bill stops HHS’ discrimination against states that value the life of every child and ensure access to high quality and affordable health care.”

“The Biden administration wants to punish Oklahoma for protecting unborn lives,” Mullin said. “OSDH serves 30,000 Oklahomans in need, and it’s absurd that HHS is willing to suspend essential OSDH funding and hurt Oklahomans simply for abiding by state and federal laws.”

“I am disappointed in the Biden Administration’s decision to rescind Title X funds from grantee states such as Oklahoma for their stance to protect life,” Cole said. “Title X family planning grants go above and beyond just the protection of life by providing life-saving preventative screenings and other health care services in rural areas. These funds are vital to many areas in Oklahoma, and I am proud to join my colleagues in the introduction of this critical legislation to ensure Oklahomans can continue to have access to affordable health care.”

Echols said state lawmakers will work to ensure Oklahoma citizens are not harmed by the Biden administration’s action.

“We will look deep into where this money goes and what options we have to bring more of it back to Oklahoma,” Echols said, “but what we will not do is become an abortion-on-demand state.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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