Trump Administration Delays Enforcement of Gag Rule

On Saturday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent out a notice to federally-funded family planning clinics, stating that clinics would be given extra time to comply with a Trump administration rule announced last week that eliminated Title X funding for clinics that provide abortion referrals.

(Creative Commons / Susan Melkisethian)

The most recent notice stated that the government “does not intend to bring enforcement actions” against family planning clinics that have demonstrated “good-faith efforts to comply.” According to the notice, clinics receiving Title X funding must send a compliance plan to the department by August 19 indicating doctors do not recommend or perform abortions, and must separate their office spaces from exam rooms where abortions are performed by March of next year.

After the Trump administration’s rule was announced on Monday, HHS originally ordered immediate compliance. Consequently, Planned Parenthood—which controls over 400 clinics nationwide—responded by stating that its clinics would not comply with the order, opting instead to use private funding.

“We cannot keep dancing back and forth with HHS,” said George Hill, president and CEO of Maine Family Planning—another organization who has decided to stop using Title X funding and dip into reserves instead. “It’s not fair to our patients, our providers … We are moving forward with our withdrawal and will consider re-applying for federal funding if and when the Gag Rule is completely off the table.”

In addition to cutting Title X funding for clinics that provide abortions, the new mandate ordered that abortion counseling at clinics be performed only by physicians or advance practice clinicians. It also stated that abortion counseling would be optional instead of standard medical protocol.

Clare Coleman, CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, told NPR that the order goes even further, because it “changes the rules around how [Title X recipients] can speak to patients about their contraceptive care. It allows providers to select the range of contraceptive methods that are offered and would allow providers to exclude methods that they object to, even if patients are interested in those methods.”

Established in 1970, Title X of the Public Health Services Act is the only federal domestic program that is exclusively concerned with providing funds for family planning and reproductive health services. Title X funding is awarded through competitive grants to healthcare providers that prove they are the most qualified for meeting the needs of the communities they serve.

Title X provides over $260 million to family planning clinics and serves over 4 million people annually. Since the inception of Title X, statutory law has explicitly outlawed the use of Title X dollars for abortion procedures. Instead, Title X grant money has gone towards other sexual and reproductive health services. In 2016 alone, health centers used Title X funding to provide 720,000 Pap tests, more than four million STD tests and nearly one million breast exams. According to the Center for American Progress, women’s health centers that receive money from Title X prevent 1 million unintended pregnancies each year.

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