In announcing a new effort to limit access to federal family planning dollars, the White House said its proposed rule would fulfill President Trump’s promise “to continue to improve women’s health.” That’s laughable.
The proposal outlined Friday would deny federal Title X family planning funds to organizations that provide abortions — most notably, Planned Parenthood — unless they do so through physically separate offices with separate staffs. Rather than improve women’s health, this rule would do the exact opposite — it could end up destabilizing the community health providers and clinics that are a lifeline for low-income women across the country.
And it’s all in the service of the Trump administration’s relentless attempts to whittle away access to legal abortion and defund Planned Parenthood, the biggest (and in some areas only) provider of Title X services.
It’s also unnecessary. If, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted, the rule is about ensuring that federal funds do not pay for abortions, then it’s redundant. The Hyde Amendment has long forbidden that. Planned Parenthood officials say they keep Title X funds separate from the funds used to provide abortions, and they are frequently audited to prove they are doing so.
Sanders also said that the administration is not proposing a “gag rule” to bar Title X-funded providers from offering abortion counseling. However, reports continue to circulate that the as-yet unreleased rule would bar providers from telling patients where they could obtain an abortion.
Current rules permit abortion counseling by healthcare providers during Title X-funded exams and screenings. Preventing a practitioner from discussing abortion or making a referral represents “an egregious intrusion in the patient-provider relationship and may force physicians to omit essential, medically accurate information,” warned Hal Lawrence, chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Even if the rule would require just the creation of separate, duplicative facilities and staff, it would still impose a costly and superfluous burden on healthcare clinics serving low-income women and men. For many people, these clinics may be their only affordable option for basic healthcare, cancer screenings and contraception within miles of their homes. Clearly, this is an attempt to force clinics that perform abortions to make a difficult choice: Jump through ridiculous hoops to remain eligible for the Title X money needed to provide family planning services to poor Americans, or stop doing abortions.
It’s outrageous for the administration to throw yet another roadblock in the path of women seeking access to a legal procedure — and hurt many of the patients who rely on family planning clinics in the process. Once again, the Trump administration needs to back off.