The Obama administration’s recent proposal to reverse a years-long trend of Republican-majority state legislatures defunding family planning services doesn’t change existing law, but sends a clear message: Stop playing politics with reproductive health care, especially for people with low incomes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the proposed rule this month in response to the 13 states that have enacted policies restricting a number of reproductive health-care providers from receiving federal Title X funds—and contradictory court rulings on legality of those state policies.
“This is a strong statement from the administration,” Janel George, director of federal reproductive rights and health for the National Women’s Law Center, told Rewire in an interview.
The policies “exclude certain providers for reasons unrelated to their ability to provide Title X services effectively,” most notably, Planned Parenthood affiliates regardless of whether they provide abortion care, even though the Title X statute prohibits federal funds from paying for the procedure.
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GOP legislators have also targeted family planning funds on the federal level, as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have repeatedly attacked Title X funding through the annual appropriations process.
George explained that the proposed rule clarifies Title X rather than changes it.
“Congress never delegated to the states the ability to just change the eligibility requirements and withhold Title X funds from entities for reasons that are wholly unrelated to the quality of care that they provide,” George said.
When states divert Title X money to hospitals or community health centers, pregnancy rates spike well above population-wide trends, HHS said in the proposed rule.
HHS cited studies revealing “a host of barriers to care and poor health outcomes, including reduced use of highly effective methods of contraception and corresponding increases in rates of childbirth among populations that rely on [f]ederally supported care; women with low educational attainment; and an increase in reported barriers to reproductive health care services, particularly for young, low-income, Spanish-speaking, and immigrant women.”
George agreed with the agency’s assessment that providers specializing in reproductive health care are best positioned to provide high-quality family planning services, which include screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, along with cervical and breast cancer.
“This is not just for women, this is [for] women, men, adolescents who seek care at these Title X recipient organizations,” George said. “I hope that folks can continue to receive care with continuity and certainty.”
HHS officials intend to publish a final rule after a 30-day comment period ending October 7. The department did not provide a timeline for the action.