Facing an HHS-imposed deadline of August 19, Planned Parenthood today informed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that unless it intervenes, Planned Parenthood entities who are Title X grantees, including Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE), will be forced out of the Title X program by next Monday, August 19––a devastating outcome that places access to affordable birth control at risk for millions of people across the country. PPSNE has accepted Title X funds in Connecticut since the program’s inception in the 1970s, and 12 PPSNE health centers in Connecticut and Rhode Island serve more than 42,500 people each year who rely on Title X funding.
Title X is the nation’s only dedicated program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, including cancer screenings, STD/STI testing and treatment, and other essential preventive care. The gag rule makes it illegal for any provider in the Title X program to tell patients how or where to access abortion, and imposes cost-prohibitive and unnecessary “physical separation” restrictions on health centers that provide abortion––moves that are clearly meant to push Planned Parenthood health centers and other reproductive health care providers out of Title X. The Department of Health and Human Services – which has asked all direct grantees to submit a plan for complying with the unethical gag rule by August 19 – even awarded $1.7 million in Title X funding this year to the Obria Group in California, an anti-abortion group that has made clear they “do not provide contraceptives.”
“The Trump-Pence administration is willing to put the health of millions of people at risk in a deliberate attempt to attack Planned Parenthood by enforcing this dangerous and unlawful gag rule,” said Amanda Skinner, President and CEO of PPSNE. “Our commitment to ethical, honest patient care means that Planned Parenthood of Southern New England can no longer participate in the Title X program. We won’t let the Trump-Pence administration gag our health care providers or restrict the information we give our patients – our doors will stay open, and we won’t stop fighting to give people the care they need and deserve.”
PPSNE serves more than 42,500 patients in Connecticut and Rhode Island who rely on Title X funding. In Connecticut, 25 percent of Title X patients who visit PPSNE health centers identify as Black or African American and 28percent identify as Latinx. In Rhode Island, 16 percent of patients identify as Black or African American and 29percent identify as Latinx. At least 52percent of PPSNE patients who will be affected by this gag rule are people of color.
“In Connecticut and Rhode Island, thousands of patients – many of whom are people of color, people with low incomes, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community- -rely on Title X funding for affordable birth control, essential preventive care, and family planning services,” said Skinner. “Without intervention from the Ninth Circuit, those most oppressed by the rising costs of health care will continue to struggle to access the life-saving services they need. This gag rule is just another cruel attempt to deny our most vulnerable communities the human right to health care.”
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Congress is also looking to take long-term action to protect Title X. In June, the House of Representatives passed a spending package including strong language blocking the Trump-Pence administration’s Title X gag rule from being implemented. Now, the Senate must push for a spending bill that includes protective language to make sure millions of people can continue to access health care through Title X.
Even in areas where other providers are present, those providers often lack the capacity to serve additional patients. Community health centers themselves say there is no way they could fill the gap if Planned Parenthood cannot serve Title X patients. The idea that other providers could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients has been resoundingly dismissed by experts. In fact, Dr Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, called the idea “ludicrous.” In fact, many of the lists of “replacement” providers don’t even provide reproductive health care.
Planned Parenthood is not the only direct grantee who will be forced out under the Trump Administration’s unethical gag rule – in total, the gag rule would force providers that serve nearly half of all Title X patients out of the program. So far, five governors (HI, IL, NY, OR, WA) have made clear that they could not participate in the Title X program if the gag rule was implemented, two state legislatures (MA and MD) have passed laws to that effect, and the only Title X direct grantee that serves the state of Maine has made clear they would not participate in Title X under the gag rule. In total, these eight states and Planned Parenthood health centers collectively serve 47 percent of the Title X patients in the United States.
The medical community, public health experts, and the general public are against this rule. In addition to the American Medical Association, the gag rule has been opposed by major medical associations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, as well as 110 public health organizations, and public health experts such as former United States surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy, and many others. A group of 19 different medical organizations, mayors, state lawmakers, over 200 Members of Congress, newly elected Democratic governors, and several other governors have opposed this legislation as well.
Make no mistake—this is yet another racist, xenophobic, misogynistic tactic to vilify reproductive and sexual health care and make it harder for people in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and across the country to access the care they need.