The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats call on Trump administration to delay Title X family planning rule, citing ‘serious concerns’

House Oversight Committee chairman objects to an ‘unconventional and nontransparent’ review process.

A Planned Parenthood supporter and opponent try to block each other’s signs during an abortion protest and counter-protest in St. Louis in 2017. (Jim Salter/AP)

Democratic members of Congress are asking the Trump administration to slow down efforts to overhaul the $260 million family planning program, citing issues with what they call an “unconventional and nontransparent” review process.

The proposed changes to the Title X program, which were announced last May, are a top priority of conservatives who helped elect the president. They would bar clinics that provide abortion services or referrals from receiving federal family-planning funds. A wide range of critics — from medical groups to abortion rights activists — have decried the effort as an attack on Planned Parenthood, which stands to lose millions of dollars a year if the changes go into effect.

The final rule is expected to be issued any day now.

In a letter dated Friday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) and Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.) pointed out what they called “troubling irregularities” in the regulatory review process.

“We have reason to believe that the final rule, if implemented, would undermine the federal Title X family planning program and threaten access to family planning services for millions of low-income women across the United States,” they wrote.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Management and Budget, which conducts the final review in the rule-making process, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Democrats said that the draft rule was accepted with no advance public notice and that there appeared to be no early outreach to groups representing women who might be affected by the changes. They also noted that the average review period is 45 days but that this draft moved in less than two weeks. During this time, the letter stated, “stakeholder meeting requests” were repeatedly denied.

Cummings, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the senators also said HHS had failed to account for the rule’s negative health impacts on the disadvantaged populations served by the program.

Perhaps most important, they wrote, HHS did not provide an adequate cost-benefit analysis, “thereby misrepresenting the true impacts of the rule to the public.”

The letter noted that “numerous major medical associations, 15 governors, 200 members of Congress, more than 20 state and local health departments, and more than 500,000 members of the public submitted comments opposing the rule on constitutional, legal, ethical, and policy grounds.” It called on the OMB to return the rule to HHS so that a comprehensive impact analysis could be done and more opportunity for public comment provided.