The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A new rule affecting Title X would hurt the well-being of millions of women

A one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills in 2016.
A one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills in 2016. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
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HAVING LONG ago made clear its intent to go after Planned Parenthood, the Trump administration has decided to proceed with a new rule that makes sweeping changes to the federal family planning program. The decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but that doesn’t make any more acceptable the harm that will be done if this misguided rule takes effect. Those who will be hurt are millions of women, many of them low-income, who will lose access to effective contraception and other reproductive health services that are critical to their well-being.

A rule announced by the Department of Health and Human Services and published Feb. 25 in the Federal Register would make organizations that provide or refer patients for abortions ineligible to receive funds under Title X. The program provides nearly $300 million a year to health clinics and nonprofit groups for family planning and related services, including screening for sexually transmitted infections and preventive health exams. Groups receiving money under Title X have for years been prevented from performing abortions with federal funds. But the new rule goes much further, with onerous requirements for separation of facilities, personnel, and medical and financial records.

Several medical and reproductive groups, including the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood, and 21 state attorneys general filed lawsuits a week after the rules were published , arguing the change is a “gag rule” that would undermine the medical relationship between a woman and her doctor. “Imagine,” said Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen, “if the Trump administration prevented doctors from talking to our patients with diabetes about insulin. It would never happen. Reproductive health care should be no different.”

Planned Parenthood, which receives about $60 million under Title X and serves about 41 percent of patients served by the program, said it would not be able to continue if the rule and its restrictions on information about abortion were implemented. Planned Parenthood’s exit would create a vacuum that medical experts said would be difficult, if not impossible, for other health providers to fill. In some parts of the country — including many rural areas — Planned Parenthood is the only Title X participant, providing birth control for people who can’t afford it.

Title X was enacted in 1970 with a bipartisan mandate to provide “a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services,” and it has helped to reduce teen pregnancy and abortion rates. The administration wants to shift the focus — and the federal money that goes with that — away from birth control to abstinence, fertility awareness and other “natural method” programs that faith groups favor. Never mind that such programs have proved to be far less reliable.

Read more:

Leana Wen: The Trump administration wants to censor doctors. It’s unprecedented — and unethical.

Melvine P. Ouyo: I’ve witnessed the devastating effects of Trump’s global gag rule. Congress must act.

Kathleen Sebelius: Low-income women’s access to contraception is under attack