On Aug. 19, 1.6 million low-income women who get services at Planned Parenthood clinics could be scrambling to figure out if they need new providers. That’s because Planned Parenthood has said it will end its participation in a federal family planning program due to the Trump administration’s new rule that requires a bright line of separation between abortion and non-abortion services.
In a letter to United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Planned Parenthood attorneys said its affiliates had planned to refuse federal funds — but not drop out of the program — while its challenge of new Trump administration prohibitions on abortion referrals or “directed counseling” made its way through the courts. Planned Parenthood leaders have said it is morally and medically wrong to not be able to offer their clients complete medical information.
But Health and Human Services officials recently required all participants in the program, known as Title X, to sign a pledge by Aug. 19, saying they would make a “good faith” effort to comply with the rule. HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley said Planned Parenthood’s proposal to remain in the program without doing that is “inconsistent.”
Planned Parenthood attorney Alan E. Schoenfeld wrote that as a result and with “deep regret,” the grantees “now have no option but to withdraw from the Title X program” from which Planned Parenthood has participated in for decades.
“We refuse to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.
The Trump administration’s rollout of the rule has been mired by confusion as various court actions have made the implementation dates a moving target. In addition, the rule’s language and HHS’ guidance have been unclear about what can and cannot be said in counseling sessions.
Abortion providers have called the changes a “gag rule” that would prevent them from offering women counseling that includes discussion of abortion. HHS has said that “nondirective” counseling would be allowed but there has not been clarity on what that means.
The result of the agency’s withdrawal — unless the court should rule against the administration before Aug. 19 — will vary greatly by state, said Erica Sackin, a spokeswoman for the organization. Some states have pledged to make up the funds. But in others where that isn’t the case, especially rural areas where providers can be many miles from one other, the effect is likely to be “chaos,” she said.
In Ohio, a mobile health center that provides testing for sexually transmitted disease, birth control and education, will likely have to shut down, Sackin said. In Vermont, where Planned Parenthood is the only Title X provider in the entire state, women would be referred elsewhere. Some Planned Parenthood affiliates may waive fees or offer discounts on a sliding scale, she said.
On Friday, HHS issued guidance providing some more information, saying that while family planning providers “are prohibited from referring for abortion as a method of family planning, referral for abortion because of an emergency medical situation is not prohibited. ”
It also states that a provider “may not provide pregnancy options counseling which promotes abortion or encourages persons to obtain abortion, although the project may provide patients with complete factual information about all medical options and the accompanying risks and benefits.”
Clinics may also provide pregnant women with “a list of comprehensive healthcare providers (including prenatal care providers), including some (but not the majority) who perform abortion as part of a comprehensive healthcare practice. However, this list cannot serve as a referral for, nor identify those who provide abortion — and Title X providers cannot indicate those on the list who provide abortion."