On Friday (February 22), the Trump administration announced that health care organizations that provide abortion referrals will no longer receive federal family planning money. While this change will likely cause a loss of millions of dollars for Planned Parenthood, it also means that religious-based, anti-abortion groups that previously did not qualify for federal money now do.
Under the new regulation—frequently referred to as a “gag rule“—health care providers will be able to discuss abortion with patients, but they can not specify where one can be obtained (which is critical information in counties and states, like Missouri, with few providers). Clinics will no longer be obligated to counsel women on all available options if they are pregnant—meaning they can omit abortion from conversations. Previously, a clinic could not receive federal funding unless all options were discussed.
In addition, clinics that are licensed to perform abortions will have to do so in a separate facility from where they provide their other services. They will not be able to tell patients that they can get an abortion there, as that is considered a referral. And they will also have to keep separate financial records for abortion-related expenses.
Reports The New York Times:
The rule, which has been expected for months, is the most recent step by the Trump administration to shift the direction of federal health programs in a conservative direction. The administration has expanded the ability of employers to claim religious or moral objections to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they offer employees insurance coverage for contraception. It has channeled funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs and family planning grants into programs that emphasize sexual abstinence over contraception.
The proposed rule is another direct challenge to the federal family planning program, Title X, which was established in 1970. It provides $286 million in funding for programs that provide services like birth control and mammograms, and screenings for breast cancer and cervical cancer. According to Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of all patients receiving care under Title X, more than four million people use it annually. About two-thirds of those who visit family planning services facilities live below the federal poverty level, reports NBC News.
Latinx and Black women will likely be most affected by this change. Latinx women represent 33 percent of those using Title X, reports Rewire.News. Says Dr. Niva Lubin-Johnson, president of the National Medical Association—which represents Black physicians and their patients—in a statement: “This rule will have dire and disproportionate consequences for African-American patients, who make up 22 percent of people who access health care through Title X.”
Planned Parenthood currently receives nearly $60 million annually through Title X, reports The Times. The organization’s president, Dr. Leana Wen, told the newspaper:
“In many parts of the country, Planned Parenthood is the only provider who participates in the program. Patients expect their doctors to speak honestly with them, to answer their questions, to help them in their time of need. Imagine if the Trump administration prevented doctors from talking to our patients with diabetes about insulin. It would never happen. Reproductive health care should be no different.”
Clinics will have 120 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register to comply with the financial requirement to keep separate books. They have a year to implement the provision for separate facilities. The Times reports that the rule is expected to be challenged in court.