Planned Parenthood warned Wednesday that, without intervention from a federal court, it will be forced out of the Title X Family Planning Program next week because of the Trump administration's ban on health clinics receiving federal tax dollars if they provide or refer patients for abortions.
"We refuse to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients."
—Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood
The Health and Human Services Department declared last month it would immediately begin enforcing what critics call the Title X or domestic gag rule. Less than a week later, the agency announced that clinics would have until mid-August to submit written assurance that they don't provide the procedure or referrals, and are making "good-faith efforts to comply" with the rule.
Alan E. Schoenfeld, a Planned Parenthood attorney, wrote in a letter (pdf) to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Wednesday:
Planned Parenthood has long been firmly committed to its Title X patients and to the Title X program, which it has served for nearly 50 years. With deep regret, however, its direct grantees now have no option but to withdraw from the Title X program. Absent emergency judicial relief, they must do so by the close of business on Monday, August 19—less than a week away.
"This is a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it," Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's acting president and CEO, said in a statement Wednesday. "We refuse to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients. The gag rule is unethical and dangerous, and we will not subject our patients to it."
"The Trump administration is targeting providers like Planned Parenthood in an attempt to end access to birth control and other reproductive healthcare," she added. "They are forcing qualified, expert healthcare providers out of our nation's decades-old program for affordable birth control—providing grants instead to an anti-abortion group that doesn't even offer birth control."
Without urgent action by the court, warned McGill Johnson, "this gag rule will destroy the Title X program—putting birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment at risk for millions of people struggling to make ends meet."
The Washington Post reported on the anticipated consequences of Planned Parenthood's exit from the federal program, which mostly serves people with low incomes who face systemic barriers to healthcare:
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.
"Planned Parenthood health centers are doing everything we can to make sure patients can still get care but it would be a mistake to think there won't be changes," Sackin said.
In a series of tweets, Planned Parenthood highlighted that its health clinics across the country serve 40 percent of all Title X patients, many of whom are people of color and under the age of 30. The group also urged critics of the administration's widely unpopular gag rule to contact their members of Congress.
Now, we need Congress more than ever to protect access to birth control and other essential care for MILLIONS.
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) August 14, 2019
The Democrat-controlled U.S. House passed a spending package in June that would block the administration's gag rule, but a similar measure has not yet passed the Republican-held Senate. There has also been pushback from some states.
"The Democratic governors of several states including Hawaii, Washington, and Illinois have said their state agencies will not participate while the rule is in effect," reported NPR. "Maine Family Planning—the only Title X grantee in that state—recently announced it is also pulling out of the program."