BOSTON — Massachusetts, led by a Republican governor, has become the first state to approve money to offset the potential loss of federal funding to women's reproductive health organizations since the Trump administration adopted a new rule in February meant to bar federally funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals or sharing office space with abortion providers.
The Massachusetts law sets aside $8 million in state dollars to close any gaps in federal Title X funding for health clinics that could lose funding by the proposed change — derided as a "gag rule" by critics.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who signed the bill, said this week the measure "ensures women's health providers across Massachusetts will continue to have access to these critical funds." The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts House and Senate.
Baker is the first governor to sign such legislation.
In 2017, in anticipation of the Trump administration rule, Maryland passed a similar law meant to protect funding for Planned Parenthood. The Maryland bill became law in 2017 after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan decided not to veto it.
On Thursday, Maryland also became the first state to pass a bill that would reject federal money for family planning services if the new rule, which is being challenged in court, takes effect. Other Democratic-leaning states, such as Washington and Oregon, may take similar steps.
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said a loss of federal funding could affect about 75,000 patients who rely in part on services funded by Title X. She said the program, in place since the 1970s, provides no- or low-cost services including testing for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and pap smears.
Of the Title X funds that come into the state, Childs-Roshak said Planned Parenthood receives less than 20%, with the rest going to other clinics that offer similar health services.
Childs-Roshak said there never had been any Title X funding for abortion coverage, adding there are "very specific rules about how to manage inventory and keep everything separate." The Trump administration's actions, she said, were meant to please what she described as a "minority extreme view."
"The Trump/Pence administration is obsessed with Planned Parenthood, and not in a good way," Childs-Roshak said. "They are obsessed with abortion."
Religious conservatives and abortion opponents have welcomed the new rule. They argue that Title X funding has been used to indirectly subsidize Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the U.S.
Krystal Linn, 39, lives in Southbridge and is a parent to seven children — both biological and foster — ages 6 to 17.
"I have been a Planned Parenthood patient since I was about 14 years old," Linn said. "My first experience was getting birth control."
Over the years, Linn has had a range of health care needs met through the agency. Much of that care, Linn said, would have otherwise been too costly.
"I was able to have children on my own time," Linn said. "I'm almost 40 years now. My concern now is more for the generation coming up. Without Planned Parenthood or providers like Planned Parenthood, what would they do? I had that benefit."
Massachusetts is also part of a multistate lawsuit led by state attorneys general in 20 mostly Democrat-controlled states, including Connecticut and Rhode Island, challenging the ruling.
During the 2018 fiscal year, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey's office said, Massachusetts received $4.3 million in Title X funding.
That allowed 96 service sites in the state to offer services including pregnancy testing, contraceptive services, routine gynecological care, cervical and breast cancer screenings, infertility services, treatment for STDs, and health education, she said.
The federal lawsuit, filed last month in Oregon, alleges the new regulations are unconstitutional, violate federal law, and threaten the health and well-being of millions of low-income women and families, Healey said.