Federal Funding Reshuffled to Gaps Driven by Abortion Limits

A sign is displayed at Planned Parenthood of Utah in Salt Lake City on Aug. 21, 2019. Federal officials say they’re redirecting nearly $34 million to cover gaps in access to birth control by low-income women after Trump administration abortion restrictions led to an exodus of clinics from the federal family planning program. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

WASHINGTON (CN) — After the federal family planning program saw a 20% drop in participants over the Trump administration’s new abortion restrictions, officials say some $32 million in unused grants will filter back to the entities that stayed put.

Health and Human Services director Diane Foley said Monday the move is intended to ensure that the same number of women, or more, benefit from the so-called Title X program, but critics say the writing is on the wall.

The administration “continues to fall far short of preserving access to care for patients who need it the most,” Planned Parenthood vice president Jacqueline Ayers said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood affiliates and other providers left the $286 million program in droves this summer in protest over a Trump administration rule that prohibits recipients of federal grant money from recommending patients for abortions.

The law has always forbidden providers from using family-planning grants to pay for abortion services, a procedure that is still legal in America, but religious conservatives have long complained that the involvement of Planned Parenthood in the the grant program amounts to an indirect subsidy. Foley said the unused money will be diverted back to state and local health departments still in the program.

Title X clinics serve nearly 4 million clients annually, but the exodus of clinics over the so-called abortion gag rule has affected an estimated 930 clinics serving some 900,000 patients. Planned Parenthood alone served nearly 40% of patients who sought care through the family-planning program.

In addition to the organizations, the states of Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington have also withdrawn from the federal family-planning program. Their respective state governments are pledging to fill the gap.

Meantime a battle against the gag rule is underway in the courts. Three judges in Washington, Oregon and California granted injunctions in June, but the Ninth Circuit stayed those injunctions pending an appeal, finding the new rule was a “reasonable interpretation” of Title X — which forbids using the funding in programs where abortions are options for family planning.

The panel also found the government would suffer irreparable harm without this stay, as it would be forced to spend taxpayer money in a way it believes violates the law.

Additionally, last Thursday – a day marked as ‘World Contraception Day’ – the Senate blocked an amendment to a State and Foreign Operations bill that would have repealed the rule.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who introduced the amendment, said in a tweet last Thursday the denial of her amendment was a “dangerous and troubling precedent.”

“Today was the first time I was denied by GOP leadership an opportunity to offer an amendment that would stop the #GlobalGag policy that’s so detrimental to the health of women and their families,” Shaheen tweeted. 

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said people should not fear that they won’t have access to health care based on their residence.

“Every day the global gag rule is in place, more and more people suffer,” Johnson said in a statement. “The fact that Senate Republicans used World Contraception Day to ignore the committee’s bipartisan support for repealing this rule shows the extent to which they will fall in line with the Trump-Pence administration’s extreme agenda to take away people’s health and rights across the globe.”

Under the Trump administration, the number and rate of abortions in the U.S. have fallen to their lowest levels since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all the states via Roe v. Wade. Better access to birth control, which health plans must now cover free of charge as a preventive service for women, is seen as part of the reason for decline.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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