The Trump administration is trying to cut Planned Parenthood and other similar organizations off from tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.
Under a policy change announced Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services, organizations that offer abortion or refer patients for abortion can no longer receive funding from Title X, a $286 million federal program tasked with providing birth control and cancer and STD screenings to low-income people. Instead, providers have to keep up a “clear physical and financial separation” between services that involve abortions and those that don’t, such as offering abortion referrals in a completely separate facility.
It’s already illegal, in most cases, to use federal dollars to pay for abortions.
The new changes, although long anticipated, are all but certain to launch a federal lawsuit. In an interview with VICE News before the policy was made public, Leana Wen, the new head of Planned Parenthood, promised to fight the new rules, which are currently set to go into effect in 60 days after being published in the federal register.
“It is our obligation to the patients that we serve, that we will do everything in our power, as we always have, to fight this,” said Wen, who took over the massive organization last fall. Of the 3.8 million people who rely on Title X services for contraception, roughly 1.6 million, or 41 percent, are seen at Planned Parenthood clinics.
Critics of the new rules, like Wen, say they amount to a “domestic gag rule” that stops providers from being able to speak honestly with their patients.
“It’s unconscionable and ethical for politicians to censor what we can say to our patients based on whether they depend on federal assistance for their health care,” Wen said. “It compromises the oath that I took [as a physician] to serve my patients and to help them make the best decision for their own health.”
Planned Parenthood could lose as much as $60 million a year if the Title X rules go into effect, according to the Washington Post. If Planned Parenthood were no longer able to take in Title X patients, other providers that receive Title X funding would have to increase their client caseloads by an average of 70 percent, a Guttmacher Institute analysis found in 2017.
But those providers are also likely to take a hit. Late last year, Kristin Adams, who leads Indiana’s sole Title X grantee, the Indiana Family Health Council, told VICE News that eight of the 30 family planning clinics operated through her state’s grant would shutter if the proposed changes take effect.
In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the influential anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony’s List, thanked President Donald Trump “for taking decisive action to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood.”
There’s one exception when providers could help refer a patient who wants an abortion: A doctor can give a pregnant patient a list of healthcare providers, and a minority of the providers on that list can offer abortion. But the doctor cannot advise the patient about choosing a provider.
The exception, the Trump administration maintains, makes these regulations less strict than similar rules passed during the Reagan administration. When activists sued the Reagan administration over those rules, the Supreme Court ultimately decided the policy could go into effect; at that point, however, the changes had been so delayed that they never took effect before President Ronald Reagan left office.
When asked how Planned Parenthood will fight the new Title X rules, Wen declined to give specifics, since the rules weren’t yet out. But pursuing a lawsuit — which could block the rules from taking effect — wasn’t off the table.
“We are exploring every avenue,” Wen pledged.
Cover image: Planned Parenthood center in San Diego, in July 2018. | usage worldwide Photo by: (Frank Duenzl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)