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Planned Parenthood May Reject Federal Funds Over Changes To Title X

Aug 19, 2019
Originally published on August 19, 2019 11:06 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

About 4 million low-income Americans get birth control and other kinds of reproductive health care through a federal program called Title X. The Trump administration is making some changes to that program, and they're set to take effect today. Because of those changes, Planned Parenthood and some other providers say they're going to withdraw from Title X. NPR correspondent Sarah McCammon covers reproductive rights. She's with me now. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So a lot at stake here, apparently. What exactly is changing with Title X today?

MCCAMMON: Well, today is a key deadline that the Trump administration has set for recipients of these Title X funds to confirm that they're making a good faith effort to comply with new rules set by the administration for the program. And that means it's likely that a substantial number of health care providers around the country that provide these services, most notably Planned Parenthood clinics, are going to withdraw from the Title X program by the end of the day, at least that's the way it appears.

This is a big program, Noel. It's $286 million each year. It covers contraceptive services, STD screenings - things like that. And under these new rules, any organization that provides abortions or advises patients on how to get them - except in a few cases like rape, incest and medical emergencies - will not be able to get these funds to provide other services.

KING: OK, so Planned Parenthood is a huge organization. It is used - its services are used by a lot of women. It's refusing to comply with these rules. Why?

MCCAMMON: Right. Well, they call the rule a gag rule. I spoke with Planned Parenthood's acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson, and she said it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: Imagine if you show up as a patient to a health center and the doctor's only ability is to refer you to prenatal care, and you may have already decided that you would like to have an abortion, federal regulations will ban that doctor from actually giving you the advice and referring you to abortion.

MCCAMMON: And Planned Parenthood made a last-ditch plea last week to a federal appeals court asking them to block the rule. That request was turned down on Friday. And Planned Parenthood had said this will effectively force them out of Title X, which is a pretty big deal because the organization has been a major part of the program for decades, and they say they serve about 40% of those 4 million people nationwide who get those services through this program.

And while it's not just Planned Parenthood, for example, Maine Family Planning and some other organizations are also pulling out.

KING: Just quickly - what is the Trump administration saying in response to these groups saying, we're just not going to be a part of this?

MCCAMMON: Well, they say that all providers of reproductive health care through this program just have to comply with the rule - either stop performing abortions or referring patients for them, and they can stay in. In a statement, the administration said that Planned Parenthood is, quote, "actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds."

The rule is a big victory, too, for opponents of abortion rights, who've pushed for a long time to cut public dollars to Planned Parenthood. I talked to a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group the SBA List this weekend. She said Planned Parenthood is demonstrating, quote, "how committed they are to performing abortion."

KING: But what does this mean for all of those low-income patients who use Title X?

MCCAMMON: It's not entirely clear what happens next. Planned Parenthood and Maine Family Planning, for example, had stopped using these funds already a few weeks ago and were patching through with other types of funding. But I'm told that cannot continue indefinitely, so some services may be scaled back or cut. Patients may have to pay more for things like birth control.

And the groups that support this rule, though, are pointing out that there are thousands of other organizations, like community health centers, that don't offer abortions that also get these funds. But a lot of patients go to Planned Parenthood and similar groups, and they're used to going there for this kind of care, so this does represent a big shift. We're also expecting to hear more from Planned Parenthood today about their legal strategy and how they plan to move forward now that this rule is taking effect.

KING: All right, we'll keep an eye on that. NPR correspondent Sarah McCammon. Thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.