Planned Parenthood’s exit from family planning program checks off a box for Trump

Jeff Roberson | AP
Jeff Roberson | AP
In this June 4, 2019, file photo, a Planned Parenthood clinic is photographed in St. Louis.
On Monday, the women’s health and abortion provider said it’s leaving Title X.
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Planned Parenthood is voluntarily exiting the federal family planning program under new restrictions from the Trump administration.

And its decision helps the president cement his popularity with abortion opponents ahead of 2020.

On Monday, the women’s health and abortion provider said it’s leaving Title X, a program that gives around 90 grantees about $260 million every year for providing about 4 million low-income women with contraception along with screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and breast and cervical cancer. It’s a major shake-up, considering Planned Parenthood clinics are the single-largest provider of Title X services.

The Title X funds already couldn’t be used for abortions. But a new Department of Health and Human Services rule goes further by banning participating clinics from referring for abortions and requiring financial separation from facilities that provide abortions. Planned Parenthood officials, who are fighting the rule in court, said they’d rather leave the program entirely than comply with the new requirements.

“We will not be bullied into withholding abortion information from our patients,” said Planned Parenthood acting president Alexis 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.”

The decision means President Donald Trump can claim he “defunded Planned Parenthood,” one of four promises he made to antiabortion groups back in 2016 to win their support.

Abortion foes have long begrudged Planned Parenthood the federal funds it collects, arguing there should be no co-mingling of taxpayer dollars and organizations that provide abortions. Adopting that stance helped Trump gain more confidence from the antiabortion community, which distrusted him immensely during the Republican primary.

Now, these groups view the president as a close ally. They were firing on all cylinders yesterday against Planned Parenthood’s contention that it was forced from the Title X program.

Trump couldn’t fulfill the “defunding” promise in the first few years of his presidency, as Republicans failed to pass several Obamacare repeal-and-replace bills that would have also blocked abortion providers from getting Medicaid dollars.

But Medicaid dollars aren’t the only way Planned Parenthood gets federal funds. It’s the biggest chunk, to be sure, about $400 million annually. But Planned Parenthood clinics will now lose out on a smaller yet still sizable sum – about $60 million – provided through the Title X program.

And that’s enough for Trump to declare he’s checked off the “defunding” box. Even Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted to that effect:

– Here are the other three promises the president made to antiabortion advocates in 2016:

1. Nominate antiabortion justices to the Supreme Court.

2. Sign a federal ban on abortions performed halfway through pregnancy.

3. Make permanent lon-standing Hyde Amendment restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortions.

The president could argue he has also accomplished the first of those promises, with the confirmations of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, two men that have shown some preference in the past for antiabortion arguments.

The other two promises – banning abortions midway through pregnancy and making Hyde permanent – are a lot harder for Trump to do, because both would require consent from a divided Congress.

But, politically speaking, that might not matter for Trump. He has already convinced conservatives who want strict limits on abortion that he’s on their side, regardless of calling himself “very pro-choice” on the issue in the past.

“Today, Planned Parenthood showed its true colors by prioritizing abortion over family planning . . . dropping out of the Title X program,” said Dannenfelser. “President Trump’s Title X Protect Life Rule is a huge victory for the majority of taxpayers who reject taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Planned Parenthood had threatened to withdraw from the Title X program in the days leading up to a Monday deadline for providers to certify to HHS they would comply with the new requirements. It had petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to freeze the policy change, but on Friday the court refused to issue an emergency injunction.

A separate clinic in Maine, Maine Family Planning, also announced yesterday it’s dropping out of the program for the same reasons after 47 years of participation.

The clinics are accusing HHS of essentially forcing them to leave the program. But an agency spokeswoman pushed back, noting the new rules were issued months ago and saying the clinics could have chosen at that point to withdraw.

“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,” said spokeswoman Mia Heck.


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