In a move that could reduce health care access for thousands of Americans, the Trump administration said it will bar organizations that provide abortion referrals from receiving federal family planning money. The rules change is essentially a gag order that prevents health care providers from discussing the full range of birth control options with patients.
It’s a wrongheaded step that could take millions of dollars in funding away from Planned Parenthood and other organizers that serve lower-income women and families. The administration’s changes in Title X rules could redirect federal funding to religion-based groups that oppose abortion. And because it’s an administrative rule change, the only way to prevent or delay it from going into effect is through successful legal challenges.
Title X is the nation’s only federal source of funding for family planning. It was created by Congress on a bipartisan basis 50 years ago and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon. The federal program offers $286 million for programs that provide services such as birth control, breast and cervical cancer screening, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. No Title X dollars may be used to provide abortions.
The highly successful program serves about 4 million patients each year, many of whom are poor, at more than 4,000 clinics. About 40 percent of those clinics are operated by Planned Parenthood, which receives close to $60 million through the federal program annually. In Minnesota, more than 50,000 women and families receive Title X-supported services through Planned Parenthood each year.
The Title X changes are wrong for numerous reasons. Provisions written into the rules open the door to funding only organizations that offer “natural” birth control methods such as rhythm and abstinence.
The changes call for separate facilities at clinics that offer abortions. That means requiring building or remodeling that clinics may not be able to afford. It would put providers through unnecessary hoops and possibly drive some to stop offering abortion services or out of business altogether.
Without clinics that offer free or low-cost services supported by Title X, thousands of women could be forced to go without contraception, cancer screening and other vital health services. The change amounts to an attack not only on abortion rights, but on most types of contraception.
And that violates medical ethics. Health care providers should be able to discuss a variety of options — and their risks and benefits — with patients. Barring them from talking about an option goes against the tenet of informed consent. That’s why a number of medical organizations, including the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association, strongly oppose the rule change.
Title X programs should remain in place because they work. A Gutt- macher Institute study found that affordable birth control offered with federal support prevents 1 million unintended pregnancies each year, resulting in tens of thousands fewer abortions. The institute also estimates that every dollar invested through Title X saves $7.09 in Medicaid-related costs.
And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, if fully implemented the Trump administration rules could “shrink the network of participating providers and have major repercussions for low-income women across the country that rely on them for their family planning care.”
Challenges from states and other legal opposition are the only hope to stop this rule change in its tracks. Thousands of women and families should not be denied crucial health care services because of the administration’s anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood position.