President Donald Trump’s move to strip federal family planning dollars from clinics that perform or provide referrals for abortion has Minnesota abortion-rights opponents hailing it as a step in the right direction, while state Planned Parenthood officials warned that 25,000 patients could face upheaval and possible loss of services.
The Trump administration on Friday announced changes to the rules affecting what is known as Title X family planning funds for people who are low-income or uninsured, reverting to a policy similar to one instituted in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan. The change is a top priority for social conservatives and is the latest effort by the Republican president to curb abortion rights.
One Trump official said the rule would give Planned Parenthood and other groups that receive federal family planning money a choice: disentangle themselves from abortion or lose government funding.
The official said the policy would require “a bright line of physical as well as financial separation” between programs that receive Title X funding and those that perform, support or make referrals for abortions.
In Minnesota, Planned Parenthood received $2.6 million in Title X funds last year to provide family planning services, including exams, contraception and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. The group, which has 18 clinics in Minnesota, only one of which provides abortions, said its clinics serve 90 percent of patients who rely on Title X funding in the state.
It’s unclear if other Minnesota clinics will be able to absorb new patients, meaning many could go without care, said Jennifer Aulwes, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., a former vice president for Planned Parenthood in Minnesota, said Friday that the change would jeopardize preventative health care for thousands of Minnesotans and “would limit the ability of doctors, nurses, hospitals and community health centers to have honest conversations with their patients.”
A Trump administration official who detailed the forthcoming proposal said it would neither prohibit nor require counseling on abortion.
Abortion opponents note that federal family planning dollars are not going away. They said the funding will be redirected to clinics not affiliated with abortion, and patients could be treated there.
Stephani Liesmaki, director of communications for the Minnesota Family Council, said Friday’s rule change “is a commendable move to protect the lives of the unborn, cherish life at every age and stage, extend comprehensive care to women and their families via community and rural health care centers, and ensure the abortion industry is no longer supported by taxpayers.”
“This will protect taxpayer dollars from funding the abortion industry,” said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. “Abortion is not family planning. Abortion is not contraception.”
The state’s network of federally qualified health centers will be able to pick up some of the slack, Fischbach said.
But a representative for the state’s 17 federally qualified health centers, which operate 72 clinics, said it’s unlikely they could absorb 25,000 new clients seeking family planning services.
“It’s not as easy as simply flipping over the switch to the federally qualified health centers,” said Jonathan Watson, CEO of the Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers. “The demand for our services is well beyond our means to provide it.”
Title X funds make up about 6 percent of the $42 million annual budget for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
National leaders on both sides of the abortion debate weighed in on the rule change, which will affect $260 million in family planning each year.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion, said in a statement Thursday night that the move would “energize” conservative voters heading into the midterm congressional elections this fall.
She said that Trump “has shown decisive leadership, delivering on a key promise to anti-abortion voters who worked so hard to elect him.”
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the new proposal “outrageous” and “dangerous.”
The policy, she said in a statement late Thursday, is “designed to make it impossible for millions of patients to get birth control or preventive care from reproductive health care providers like Planned Parenthood. This is designed to force doctors and nurses to lie to their patients. It would have devastating consequences across this country.”
The change could prompt legal challenges as it did soon after the Reagan administration adopted it. Planned Parenthood and other groups filed lawsuits that blocked the rules, and while the Supreme Court decided in 1991 that the rules could move forward, they were never fully carried out. President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy in 1994.
Drop in abortions
In Minnesota, the number of abortions performed each year has dropped by nearly half since 1980. Doctors performed 9,953 in 2016 and Planned Parenthood performed 5,629 of those, according to a Minnesota Department of Health report.
Both sides claim credit for the decrease.
“Right now we are at the lowest unintended pregnancy rate, lowest abortion rate and lowest teen pregnancy rate since Roe vs. Wade. That’s due to access to birth control,” Aulwes said.
Fischbach said Planned Parenthood is not the reason abortion and teen births have declined.
“Teens are smarter. They have more ways of accessing information,” Fischbach said. “They are choosing life. Society in general is turning away from abortion.”
Trump has shown ambivalence about Planned Parenthood, sometimes expressing support for its health-related services other than abortion. His daughter Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser, has reportedly urged him not to strip funding for the organization, as many Republicans have proposed, warning of the possible political repercussions.
Trump is set next week to give the keynote speech at a Susan B. Anthony List gala. Dannenfelser has called Trump “the most pro-life president in our nation’s history.”
The Trump administration has pressed repeatedly to limit abortion.
Upon taking office, Trump signed a presidential memorandum reinstituting and expanding what critics call the “global gag rule,” a federal policy that bars federal funding for organizations around the world that provide abortion counseling or referrals. The policy was first instituted in 1984 and since then has been alternately rescinded by Democratic administrations and reinstated by Republican ones.
Trump has taken particular aim at Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of women who receive federally funded family planning services.