Planned Parenthood Fights Trump on Title X and Abortion
The federal government cannot legally pay for most abortions. But it does give money to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood for all sorts of other reproductive-health services, especially for low-income women. For years, conservatives have argued that this is effectively the same as the government cutting a check for an abortion: Money is fungible, they say, so any reimbursement or grant frees up money for Planned Parenthood to terminate pregnancies.
That’s why the Trump administration has taken aim at Title X, a decades-old family-planning program that provides money for low-income women to access birth control, cancer and STD screenings, breast exams, and more. Under a new rule, Title X recipients are no longer allowed to provide women with information about where and how they can get an abortion, and they cannot encourage women to seek out the procedure.
Planned Parenthood is challenging this rule in court, but last month, a panel of judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to halt it from going into effect. All Title X recipients faced a Monday deadline, set by the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, to show how they were going to comply with the new guidelines. Planned Parenthood, along with a Title X grantee in Maine, refused.
The Trump administration argues that since it’s illegal for Title X money to be used “in programs where abortion is a method of family planning,” according to the text of its new rule, its guidelines needed to be updated to ensure that Title X funds are not inadvertently used to help women get abortions. In the new rule, HHS removed a previous requirement that providers had to offer non-directive abortion counseling, if requested, arguing that this could violate health-care providers’s legally protected conscience rights. And HHS now requires “physical and financial separation” between the parts of an organization that perform abortions and those that provide services using Title X funds. For Planned Parenthood affiliates, which almost always provide a full range of reproductive-health services under one roof, implementing this part of the rule would be particularly prohibitive.
“It’s meant to be restrictive,” Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University, told me. “It’s meant to be consumptive, in terms of resources. And I think ultimately, the goal is to make people either bow out entirely or decide not to provide abortions at all.”
Planned Parenthood has nicknamed the new Trump guidelines a “gag rule,” arguing that it would stop doctors from providing medical information to their patients. “Our patients come to us because they expect the best information and health care available,” said Planned Parenthood’s acting president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, in a recent press call. “The gag rule would make it impossible for us to uphold that commitment. At Planned Parenthood, we refuse to cower to the Trump-Pence administration.”