Changes To Federal Family Planning Program Angers Advocates

May 18, 2019

The Trump administration has proposed notable changes, including what critics call a“gag rule,” to the federal family planning program, Title X.

The Trump administration recently finalized revisions to Title X, the federal family planning program that serves approximately four million people a year.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Population Affairs posted the revised regulations on March 4. The agencies said in order to qualify for the taxpayer funded federal grant, “family planning providers have to physically, and financially separate facilities that offer or refer patients for abortion.”

Title X funding is used to provide birth control, wellness exams, cancer screenings, and other reproductive health services to millions of low-income Americans.

The new regulations say, “None of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

Translation: Under the new regulations any family planning provider that receives federal funding can no longer perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.

HHS also says the change, “makes notable improvements designed to increase the number of patients served, and improve the quality of their care.”

However, a federal judge in Washington State issued a nationwide preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking the new rules, which would have gone into effect May 3.

While the matter is in court, abortion rights supporters and family planning providers like Planned Parenthood say the administration’s proposed ban on referring abortions amounts to a “gag rule” on Planned Parenthood’s physicians.

“Limiting the ability to discuss safe and legal medical procedures for really no reason at all is just going to lead to a lot of problems," said Emma Corbett, the Vice President of Communications with Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson. 

Planned Parenthood makes up 13 percent of the Title X centers across the country, serving 41 percent of all Title X patients.

“Safe and legal abortion is health care, and that’s something that we need to kind of deconstruct the taboo around,” said Corbett.

Meanwhile, conservatives and anti-abortion advocates argue federal funds shouldn’t go to any group involved in abortion.

“Abortion is not health care,” said Pastor Joni Lupis, President of March for Life New York. “This Title X I call it Title “X” funding was for women’s health care, it was always for women’s health care, it wasn’t for abortion, but we have to understand they do abortions under the same roof, in the same building with the same doctors and the same workers.”

Dr. Anne Davis, an obstetrician gynecologist and consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, says withholding information from patients is medically unethical.

“We are there to help people, and to help them get medical care and to ask a doctor to ignore a patient's request puts us in a deeply unethical position,” said Davis.

Davis says colleagues who work in states that have implemented similar blockades, like Missouri, Mississippi, and North Dakota, say the measures have been effective.

“Even though Roe v. Wade stands and abortion is legal it’s so restricted that it's off the table for great numbers of women,” said Davis. 

In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act into law in January. The legislation is designed to codify the protections covered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling into state law.

“Another New York national precedent will be established the most aggressive women’s equality platform in the nation is going to be in law in this state,” said Cuomo. 

The act expands who is qualified to provide abortion care. Before, only physicians were eligible, but now physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and licensed midwives are authorized under New York State law.

“The RHA is a great example of leadership that New York is showing not only to protect people within New York, but to send a strong message across the country that states can and should make sure that they are treating reproductive health care, including abortion as the healthcare that it is, and not as a criminal matter,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute of Reproductive Health.

In neighboring Massachusetts, Republican Governor Charlie Baker has also signed a bill approving $8 million to offset the potential loss of federal funding to women’s reproductive health organizations.

Baker said the measure, "ensures women's health providers across Massachusetts will continue to have access to these critical funds" by closing any gap in Title X.

Not only are governors taking action, but a coalition of 21 state attorneys general is challenging the constitutionality of the new rules. The national lawsuit is being led by New York Attorney General Letitia James and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, both Democrats.

In the meantime, Emma Corbett of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson says her organization will advocate against the Trump administration’s efforts.

“We’re gonna continue to fight like hell for our patients to have access to the care they need whether that is in the state or beyond,” said Corbett.

Rachel Jozef is a senior at the University at Albany, majoring in Journalism and a minor in Sociology.