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Planned Parenthood leaves Title X program over 'gag rule'

By Daniel Uria & Danielle Haynes
Planned Parenthood leaves Title X program over 'gag rule'
Planned Parenthood said the new rule is an effort by the Trump administration to deny abortion services to American women. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Planned Parenthood announced Monday it is leaving the Title X program after the government said it must comply with a new rule banning the organization from providing information on abortion access.

The government said if Planned Parenthood didn't adhere to the so-called gag rule, it would lose federal funding under Title X.

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Planned Parenthood said it had no choice but to leave the program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has required all grantees to submit a plan by Monday detailing how they will comply with the new rules. Because of the gag rule, Planned Parenthood says it cannot remain in a program in which it's participated for decades.

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Alex McGill Johnson, acting president of the organization, appealed last week to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene.

Critics say an exit by Planned Parenthood will most affect low-income Americans, minority communities and the uninsured.

"This gag rule will destroy the Title X program -- putting birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings and STI testing and treatment at risk for millions of people struggling to make ends meet," Johnson wrote in a letter to the court.

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HHS issued the new rules in February prohibiting referral for abortion as a method of family planning for Title X grantees, and requiring clear financial and physical separation between Title X-funded projects and programs that offer abortion referrals.

So far, challenges in federal court have failed. An en banc panel of 11 judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month to allow the new rules to take effect while legal challenges play out. Friday, the court refused to reverse its decision.

Planned Parenthood, which says it serves 40 percent of the 4 million Title X patients in the United States, said the rule is an overt effort to push it and other similar reproductive health providers out of the program.

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"Trump's administration is trying to force us to keep information from our patients," Johnson wrote. "We refuse to cower to this president. The gag rule is unethical, dangerous, and we will not subject our patients to it.

"We are considering all of our options -- the Trump administration is recklessly putting birth control and reproductive health care for millions of people at risk."

One option the group is pursuing is legislative.

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"This fight isn't over. In June, the House voted in favor of protective language for the Title X program without the gag rule. In a few weeks, the Senate can choose to do the same," Planned Parenthood states on its website.

Johnson said the impact of the group's departure will differ from state to state -- but in some cases, contraception and other services may become more expensive, or wait times may increase.

"It means that some people will not be able to afford the care; it means that some people will have to make a decision as to whether or not they have the time to wait in line. It certainly means that there will be, potentially a delay in care -- or they will decide to forgo care altogether," she wrote.

An HHS representative told NPR that Planned Parenthood prioritizes abortion referral over remaining in the program.

"To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services," the official said.

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Johnson said Planned Parenthood will seek other sources, such as donations, to recoup funding previously provided by Title X -- but added it's "unrealistic to think grants or private donations" can accurately replace the federal aid.

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