Planned Parenthood leaves federal family planning program over abortion ‘gag rule’

  • FILE- In this June 4, 2019, file photo, a Planned Parenthood clinic is photographed in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File) Jeff Roberson

Published: 8/19/2019 8:05:47 PM

NEW YORK — Planned Parenthood said Monday it’s pulling out of the federal family planning program rather than abide by a new Trump administration rule prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting president and CEO, said the organization’s nationwide network of health centers would remain open and strive to make up for the loss of federal money. But she predicted that many low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood services would “delay or go without” care.

“We will not be bullied into withholding abortion information from our patients,” said McGill Johnson. “Our patients deserve to make their own health care decisions, not to be forced to have Donald Trump or Mike Pence make those decisions for them.”

Responding with its own statement, the federal Department of Health and Human Services said that Planned Parenthood affiliates knew months ago about the new restrictions and suggested that the group could have chosen at that point to exit the program.

“Some grantees are now blaming the government for their own actions — having chosen to accept the grant while failing to comply with the regulations that accompany it — and they are abandoning their obligations to serve patients under the program,” the department said.

Planned Parenthood was not the only organization dropping out. Maine Family Planning, which is unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood, also released its letter of withdrawal Monday. The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, an umbrella group for family planning clinics is suing to overturn the regulations.

About 4 million women are served nationwide under the Title X program, which distributes $260 million in grants to clinics. Planned Parenthood says it has served about 40 percent of patients.

In western Massachusetts, reproductive rights advocates spoke out against the Trump administration’s new rule.

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, said she sees the ban on referring people for abortions as a “gag rule.”​​ ​​​​​

“It’s devastating because you’re playing with people’s health. It’s cruel, irresponsible and draconian,” said Sabadosa, who was a longtime volunteer at Planned Parenthood and is on the board of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts.

She was supportive of Planned Parenthood’s decision.

“I’m grateful that Planned Parenthood continues to recognize that abortion is health care and that they are willing to continue to provide basic health care to patients.”

She said it will be harder for some people to get health care.

Smith College professor Carrie Baker, who is president of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, also criticized the restrictions.

“This is a deeply misogynistic decision and is connected to a real disrespect for women, for women’s bodily autonomy and their right to make decisions about their bodies and their lives,” she said. “It’s a really sad day for our country, I think.

“I’ve been working on these issues for decades and I just can’t believe that we’re at this point.”

Currently, a federal appeals court in San Francisco is weighing a lawsuit to overturn the rules, but so far the court has allowed the administration to go ahead with enforcement. Oral arguments are scheduled the week of Sept. 23. Several states and the American Medical Association have joined the suit as plaintiffs. Activists are also pressing Congress to overturn the rule.

Monday was the deadline set by the government for program participants to submit statements that they intended to comply with the new rules, along with a plan. Enforcement will start Sept. 18.

Along with the ban on abortion referrals by clinics, the rule’s requirements include financial separation from facilities that provide abortion, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice, and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients. Clinics would have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions.

The family planning rule is part of a series of efforts to remake government policy on reproductive health to please conservatives who are a key part of President Donald Trump’s political base. Religious conservatives see the program as providing an indirect subsidy to Planned Parenthood, which runs family planning clinics and is also a major abortion provider.

Planned Parenthood has called the ban on abortion referrals a “gag rule,” while the administration insists that’s not the case.

Maine Family Planning CEO George Hill said in a letter to HHS that his organization is withdrawing “more in sorrow than in anger” after 47 years of participating in the program.

He said the Trump administration regulation “would fundamentally compromise the relationship our patients have with us as trusted providers of this most personal and private health care. It is simply wrong to deny patients accurate information about and access to abortion care.”

Staff writer Greta Jochem contributed to this report.



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