The Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced Monday it would withdraw from the Title X Family Planning grant program rather than comply with a Trump administration rule that forbids funded health centers from referring women to abortion providers.
The rule change is only the latest in a series of assaults intended to chip away at women's constitutional right to safe and legal abortion. State leaders have vowed to plug the funding gap to prevent cuts to comprehensive family planning services in Washington. That was the right call, but it is only a temporary fix.
The nearly 50-year-old Title X program is the only federal grant solely dedicated to providing contraceptives and family planning services, particularly to low-income patients. Washington receives around $4 million in Title X funding, accounting for about 30% of the state's family planning services. State funds make up the rest.
The state health department distributes the funds to a network of 16 service providers operating 85 family planning services clinics, including dozens of Planned Parenthood health centers. Last year, Title X providers served 93,120 clients, according to Department of Health statistics.
Taking population data, visits and other factors into account, state health officials estimate the funded services prevented 18,390 unintended pregnancies, of which 6,210 would have ended in abortion, saving $115 million in related health-care costs.
The program is particularly vital in Eastern Washington, where health-care providers are in short supply. An additional rule change would force providers to erect a physical wall between abortion services and family planning facilities — a requirement so onerous it would effectively leave 11 eastern Washington counties with no Title X provider, according to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
The AG has joined 19 other states in challenging the rule in federal court, arguing, among other things, that it unlawfully prohibits providers from providing complete, accurate information to patients and violates the grant program's legislative intent of increasing access to comprehensive, nondirective pregnancy counseling.
Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee, Ferguson and Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced that the state had stopped using Title X funds rather than ask providers to comply with the administration's gag rule. In a July 30 letter to the federal office that administers the grants, they wrote, "The rules would require the Department to violate our state's Reproductive Privacy Act by discriminating against women's exercise of their fundamental rights. And the rules would prohibit Title X providers in Washington State from caring for their patients according to their medical training, judgment, and professional and ethical obligations."
The decision safeguards our state's family planning network in the short term, but states should not have to foot the bill for this administration's attempts to punish Planned Parenthood and other clinics that perform legal abortion. If the court fails to thwart this attempt at an end run around reproductive freedoms, voters should make clear in 2020 they will not allow comprehensive family planning services to be sacrificed in this ideological fight.