Health Care

Planned Parenthood Sues Trump Administration over Changes to Family-Planning Grants

Demonstrators hold placards during a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, April 5, 2017. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/Reuters)

Planned Parenthood sued the Trump administration Wednesday over changes to federal Title X family-planning grants, claiming that the administration’s emphasis on abstinence and natural family planning will compromise the health of millions of Americans.

Two other reproductive-rights groups — the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and the American Civil Liberties Union — filed a separate lawsuit Wednesday, which also challenges the new Title X guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in February.

The HHS directive, known as a Federal Opportunity Announcement, emphasizes natural family planning, otherwise known as “fertility awareness,” but does not mention contraception. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood affiliates in Wisconsin, Utah, and Ohio, alleges that the change in emphasis unfairly disadvantages organizations that provide contraception and STD screenings using Title X funds.

“This is a radical shift, and the way the FOA is written, it just flies in the face of the best medical practice,” Tanya Atkinson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, told NPR. “It is a radical shift that could have a big impact on people’s health.”

Critics of the new HHS guidance — which discusses “the benefits of avoiding sexual risk or returning to a sexually risk-free status, especially (but not only) when communicating with adolescents” — are also concerned about what they see as coded abstinence promotion.

Clare Coleman, president & CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, told NPR that the Trump administration’s approach to distributing Title X grants is “disrespectful” to low-income people and harms the underlying mission of the grants “by shifting to a narrow, ideological vision of how people should live their lives: no sex until marriage; family participation at all ages; and natural family planning methods first and foremost.”

A coalition of pro-life groups sent a letter Tuesday to HHS secretary Alex Azar asking that he reinstate a short-lived regulation, implemented under president Ronald Reagan, which prevented abortion providers from receiving Title X grants.

Planned Parenthood — which receives $50–60 million of the Title X program’s total $286 million in funding, according to the pro-life groups — pushed back on the notion that the rule change would affect abortion providers exclusively, arguing that the new regulation would likely prevent Title X recipients from even discussing abortion with patients.

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