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Nebraska taxpayer dollars, abortion and the budget

A recent piece by the Lincoln Journal-Star editorial board wasted no time criticizing Gov. Pete Ricketts’ biennial budget proposal for including a pro-life provision that prohibits taxpayer dollars from subsidizing the abortion industry. The editorial advanced two arguments to support its disapproval. Both arguments miss the mark and fail to paint the whole picture about this critical pro-life language.

Title X is a federal grant program that includes important preventive health services such as annual well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, and HPV testing and vaccinations. Title X also includes problematic services such as contraception. 

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services receives Title X grant funds from the federal government and distributes the funds to subgrantee organizations in our state. More than $1.5 million is distributed in Nebraska and the leading recipient, until last year, has been Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, receiving nearly $300,000 per year.

The Title X provision in Ricketts’ budget proposal basically requires Title X providers to establish a “firewall” between their Title X services and their abortion work. More specifically, Title X funds may not be distributed to an organization that performs, assists with the performance of, provides directive counseling in favor of or refers for abortion.

If a provider engages in abortion activity, but wants to continue receiving Title X funds, its Title X-providing side would have to be “objectively independent” of its abortion side. Objective independence requires legal, financial and physical separation between the abortion services entity and the Title X provider. This provides basic accountability and ensures taxpayer dollars are not supporting abortion.

During the 2018 session, this provision was successfully adopted by the Legislature after hours of debate and attempts to strip the language from the budget.

STIFLING THE BUDGET?

The editorial claimed that “last year’s contentious discussion paralyzed the Legislature, leading the budget to be rejected twice before a compromise – with the (Title X) provision intact – was approved.”

The Title X language unquestionably caused a contentious discussion, but the cause of the legislative paralysis is a question worth exploring: Who actually used Title X to paralyze the budget?

Last year’s Title X debate revealed that several pro-abortion state senators will stop at nothing to strip the Title X language from the budget. These senators were determined to protect the abortion industry and ensure the nation’s leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, could continue receiving taxpayer dollars and be allowed to refer Title X clients to itself for abortions.

These senators’ efforts failed to gain traction at every step of the legislative process (for example, committee hearings, committee votes, floor debate, floor votes, etc.). Rather than accept the will of the majority of the Legislature and the people of Nebraska, they made bogging down the budget debate a priority. Senators had every opportunity to discuss other critical issues facing Nebraska, such as K-12 public education or university funding. Instead, they insisted that the entire budget debate should be consumed with discussion about Title X.

The decision to focus on Title X over other issues was clearly politically calculated and intentional and served as proof that some are not willing to consider any alternative to partnering government with the abortion industry.

STAND-ALONE BILL?

The editorial also claimed that the Title X issue “is a policy matter that must be handled in a stand-alone bill … independently of the state budget” (emphasis added). 

While the Title X matter could be handled in a stand-alone bill, it is not required – as the editorial suggests – that Title X be addressed that way. 

The budget is a policy document that deals precisely with how state taxpayer dollars are to be distributed. The Title X debate is about the state’s prerogative to establish certain criteria for how funds will be disseminated. This concept is not novel to the budget, as there are – unsurprisingly – numerous provisions in the budget that establish funding criteria.

In addition, the state budget has included restrictions on using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion services for 20 years. This language has been consistently – and rightfully – adopted by the Legislature without issue. 

In short, it is wholly reasonable, fitting and consistent with prior budgets for the budget to contain prohibitions on taxpayer dollars subsidizing the abortion industry.

BOTTOM LINE

Critics of the Title X language being in the state’s budget should remember that the majority of Nebraskans do not want taxpayer money subsidizing abortion services.

The Title X provision establishes more robust accountability measures for Title X grant recipients and assures Nebraskans that their hard-earned dollars will not contribute to the taking of precious unborn human life. The state has a responsibility to defend and protect human life from conception to natural death, and the Title X provision is a step in the right direction.

Join us by raising your voices to defend the unborn child and ensure that Nebraska, once again, adopts pro-life Title X language in our budget and continues to demonstrate that we truly are a pro-life state. Visit www.necatholic.org/be-an-advocate to join our network.

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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