The fears of low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood for reproductive health services were confirmed on Monday: In response to attempts by the Trump administration to stifle abortion rights by imposing a gag order on health practitioners, the 103-year-old organization announced that it has opted to withdraw from Title X federal funding.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Planned Parenthood currently serves approximately 40 percent of the 4 million patients under Title X, “which is meant to provide birth control and reproductive health care to low-income women.” Ironically, the funds aren’t currently used for abortions, but services like birth control, pregnancy tests and STD screenings, often for patients in underserved areas. However, the Trump administration recently imposed a new rule that restricts health providers’ ability to provide necessary information to patients exploring abortion as an option.
As the New York Times reports:
The Trump administration’s rule says that while clinics accepting Title X funds may continue to talk to patients about abortion, they may not refer women to an abortion provider or suggest where to obtain an abortion. That distinction might seem like a subtle one, but Planned Parenthood and many other organizations, including the American Medical Association, say the restriction would force them to withhold medical information from patients, interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, and could deny pregnant women the range of options available to them.
“For too many struggling to make ends meet, including those people in rural areas and in communities of color, this gag rule may mean that they delay or go without care,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, said in a call with reporters, according to U.S. News & World Report. “Our patients come to us because they expect the best information in health care available, and we have a commitment to provide that to them. The gag rule would make it impossible for us to uphold that commitment.”
Currently, Planned Parenthood reportedly receives $60 million of the $286 million total annually granted by Title X to health centers providing reproductive health care and cancer screenings, the Times reports. While the organization’s withdrawal will presumably not deprive it of the $500 million annually received from Medicaid, Planned Parenthood has declined to disclose how much they will lose as a result. Instead, McGill Johnson places the blame squarely on the Trump administration for forcing the organization’s hand.
“When you have an unethical rule that will limit what providers can tell our patients, it becomes really important that we not agree to be in [Title X],” she said, reports the Times.
However, the Department of Health and Human Services denies that the new mandate is “a gag rule,” and maintains that agencies that chose not to comply with the new rule “are abandoning their obligations to serve their patients under the program.”
“Health professionals are free to provide nondirective pregnancy counseling, including counseling on abortion, and are not prohibited in any way from providing medically necessary information to clients,” the department said, the Times reports. Their statement went on to say that providers may offer “a list of comprehensive health care providers (including prenatal care providers), including some (but not the majority) who perform abortion as part of a comprehensive health care practice. However, this list cannot serve as a referral for, nor identify those who provide abortion—and Title X providers cannot indicate those on the list who provide abortion.”
But “while Title X providers are prohibited from referring for abortion as a method of family planning, referral for abortion because of an emergency medical situation is not prohibited,” the department clarified.
This battle, as well as others surrounding the rollback of abortion rights, will wage on, as the administration’s new rule is facing a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood, as well as other organizations and over 20 states, the Times reports. However, despite a legal request (pdf) by Planned Parenthood to postpone the August 19 deadline for compliance to the rule, those pending cases did not prohibit the rule from taking effect on Monday.
“I want our patients to know: while the Trump administration may have given up on you, Planned Parenthood never will,” said McGill Johnson in a statement obtained by The Root. “Our doors are open today, and our doors will be open tomorrow. The Trump administration’s gag rule will reverberate across the country. This reality will hit hardest people struggling to make ends meet — including those people in rural areas and communities of color.
“We believe that the Trump administration is doing this as an attack on reproductive health care and to keep providers like Planned Parenthood from serving our patients,” she continued. “Health care shouldn’t come down to how much you earn, where you live, or who you are. Congress must act now. It’s time for the U.S. Senate to act to pass a spending bill that will reverse the harmful rule and restore access to birth control, STD testing, and other critical services to people with low-incomes. People’s lives depend on it.”