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Planned Parenthood Withdraws From Title X Program Over Trump Abortion Rule

Abortion protesters attempt to hand out literature as they stand in the driveway of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indianapolis on Aug. 16.
Michael Conroy
Abortion protesters attempt to hand out literature as they stand in the driveway of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indianapolis on Aug. 16.

Updated at 5:37 p.m. ET

Planned Parenthood is leaving the federal Title X family planning program rather than comply with new Trump administration rules regarding abortion counseling.

The new rules, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year, prohibit Title X grantees from providing or referring patients for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or medical emergency.

"The Trump administration has forced Planned Parenthood grantees out of Title X," said Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood's acting president, in a conference call Monday. "The impact of the Trump administration's gag rule will reverberate across the country."

Officials say that means patients are likely to see longer wait times or increased costs for reproductive health services.

Planned Parenthood and other medical groups say the rule is unethical and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. Abortion-rights opponents, meanwhile, have long argued for a complete separation between federal dollars and any organization involved in providing or facilitating abortions.

The announcement follows aletter submitted by Planned Parenthood last week to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. An attorney for Planned Parenthood said the organization had hoped to remain in the program but stop using Title X funds while the matter is being litigated. But, the letter says, recent guidance from HHS informed grantees that they would have to leave the program if they could not show "good-faith efforts" to comply. The letter expresses "deep regret" but says Planned Parenthood clinics "now have no option but to withdraw from the Title X program."

In a statement to NPR Monday, HHS officials said, "Every grantee had the choice to accept the grant and comply with the program's regulations or not accept the grant if they did not want to comply. 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 their patients under the program."

Planned Parenthood's withdrawal from the $286 million federal program represents a significant shift in the way the family planning program operates. The organization has been involved in the program since its inception, and officials say it serves about 40% of the nation's 4 million Title X recipients, who receive services such as contraception and STD screenings.

Planned Parenthood officials declined to say how much money flows to the organization's clinics nationwide through Title X.

Doreen Denny, senior director of government relations for Concerned Women for America, which opposes abortion rights, called the news "a day of reckoning and decision" for Planned Parenthood.

"I think that Planned Parenthood certainly knew that they had a choice to make when they first applied for grants this round. They knew that these rules could take effect," Denny said. "So this isn't a surprise to them."

Abortion-rights opponents have called on political leaders to defund Planned Parenthood and have praised President Trump for his administration's efforts to deliver on his campaign promise to do just that.

The impact of the rule change is not limited to Planned Parenthood. Maine's sole Title X grantee, Maine Family Planning, is also withdrawing. In a letter to HHS, CEO George Hill said his group is leaving the program "more in sorrow than in anger."

Emily Nestler is an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Maine Family Planning in its own legal challenge to the Trump administration rules. She said the move could force as many as 15 clinics to close in the largely rural state.

"Today is the tipping point, I think, and you're going to really see the unwinding of a program that has provided extraordinary care and been a huge success for decades," Nestler said in an interview with NPR.

Anti-abortion advocates say they hope the changes to the Title X program will open up funding for other groups, including religiously based organizations and crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women against abortions. Some of those groups do not provide a full range of contraceptive services.

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Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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