The federal government long has barred the use of family planning funds to pay for abortions. Now the Trump White House has proposed a tighter restriction. It wants to prohibit organizations that receive federal Title X money from providing or referring patients for abortions. The rule presented Planned Parenthood with a choice — stop offering or referring the procedure or give up the $60 million a year it receives in such funding.
On Monday, Planned Parenthood announced its decision, following a court ruling late last week. A judge allowed the change to take effect while parties pursue a legal challenge. For now, Planned Parenthood no longer will participate in the Title X program, the primary federal vehicle dedicated to family planning.
That is a shame. Planned Parenthood serves roughly 40 percent of the 4 million patients who receive care through the program. Those recipients are mostly low-income women who gain services such as birth control and screenings for breast and cervical cancer. The organization has been a participant in the program from the beginning in 1970, during the Richard Nixon presidency.
Analysts note that in some areas, Planned Parenthood amounts to the sole provider, or at least the most accessible. Thus, its absence will leave a void in many communities, one that other providers will be hard pressed to fill. Unfortunately, that likely translates to patients facing delays or going without services, their quality of life diminished.
It is understandable why Planned Parenthood has taken this step and filed its lawsuit. Congress has made clear its intention that the Department of Health and Human Services stay away from “any regulation … that interferes with communications regarding a full range of treatment options between the patient and the provider.” Yet the rule prohibits doctors and other health professionals from sharing certain information with patients.
This is why critics call the regulation a “domestic gag rule.” It neglects the unbiased counsel lawmakers have mandated.
Among the opponents are the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Physicians. They object to the intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship, the rule from their perspective essentially promoting an ethical violation.
It is telling how the rule sets up separation requirements, both physical and financial. A Planned Parenthood providing referrals and abortion services must keep those elements separate from any aspects receiving Title X funds. That suggests separate centers, entrances and staffs, or adding burdens to make the option cost-prohibitive. The separation includes health care records, or something contrary to medical best practices, making less accessible the complete profile of a patient.
Planned Parenthood will survive such a rule change. The casualties will be those who have come to trust the organization for its quality of care. More, without Planned Parenthood in the equation, the other 2.4 million people gaining care through Title X funds will likely see a negative ripple effect, as their providers cope.
The hope is that Planned Parenthood ultimately prevails in court. There was a time not too long ago that it won much bipartisan support among political figures, Democrats and Republicans recognizing its value. Polls show that remains the case with the public. In addition, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found in May that nearly 60 percent of respondents oppose the rule regarding referrals the Trump administration has finalized.
The White House has done so as part of advancing an extreme agenda that seeks to portray Planned Parenthood as a villain. It is nothing of the kind. It is a provider of information and health care to many women in need. Their lives are better because of its presence.