Pioneer Valley lawmakers vote to protect Title X funding

  • The Tapestry Health needle exchange site in Holyoke. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 4/3/2019 12:00:51 AM

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill Monday allocating $8 million in state money to continue financing family planning clinics backed by Title X, the federal grant program that funds comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.

The bill received widespread support from Pioneer Valley lawmakers, and came as a direct response to the Trump administration’s decision to revoke funding from providers such as Planned Parenthood, said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

The bill passed last week with bipartisan support, with the House voting 140-14, and the Senate 33-5. President Trump’s new regulations, announced late last month, would make any clinic that performs or refers patients for abortions ineligible for federal funding.

“I believe that we should not sacrifice family planning or the reproductive rights of women,” Comerford said. “This is a way for our commonwealth to say … we are going to protect family planning initiatives and reproductive rights, even if they come under threat at the federal level.”

Comerford, along with Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and Reps. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, all voted to pass the emergency funding. Sen. Donald Humason, R-Westfield, was one of a few nay votes in the Senate.

Lesser stressed that the need for continued funding of these clinics goes beyond the issue of abortion.

“This is about access to health care,” Lesser said. “There’s a broad array of services that are provided by groups like Planned Parenthood and other groups engaged in women’s reproductive health issues. Of course, it’s about access to safe abortion … but those broader health care services need to be protected as well.”

The $8 million will act as a stop-gap of sorts, Sabadosa said. In the event that the Trump administration’s regulations are overturned, as many states have already sued to do so, the money will return to the general fund. If not, the money will provide funding for family planning clinics for the remainder of fiscal year 2019 and through fiscal year 2020.

Sabadosa said she waited to vote on the bill until she was sure the funds provided by the commonwealth would be a full replacement of all federal funds lost.

Tapestry Health, based in Florence, receives just under a million dollars, or 30 percent of its budget through Title X funding, Sabadosa said. The agency provides birth control services, preventative care, needle exchange, and sexually transmitted disease treatment to Northampton area residents. The loss of such funding could result in cuts to vital services.

“We could potentially have lost health care centers all throughout western Massachusetts,” Sabadosa said.

Included in the new federal regulation is a so-called “gag rule” that prevents doctors from speaking to patients about abortion as an option. The order threatens patients’ right to comprehensive and accurate medical information, Domb wrote in an email.

“I was very excited to learn that the House Ways and Means Committee and the Speaker were working to protect the commonwealth’s Title X clinics and their patients from the threats posed to them by the Trump administration’s proposed gag rule,” Domb wrote. “Title X funding is critical, and Massachusetts’ effort to fight the gag rule – and the administration who has proposed it – should be a priority.”

In the coming months, there will be a hearing before the Legislature’s Public Health Committee on the Roe Act, designed to ensure a woman’s legal right to an abortion in the commonwealth. Petitioners include Lesser, Comerford, and Sabadosa. Comerford chairs the committee.

“There’s a very real likelihood that on a federal level, we won’t see the same protections for women’s health care that we’ve historically seen,” Lesser said. “Which means is it important for Massachusetts to be very both vigilant and proactive.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene writes for the Gazette from the Boston Statehouse News Program.

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