Emily Larsen, DCNF
Sen. Kamala Harris said in a tweet Monday night that the proposed rule for Title X family planning grants would cut off funding from health clinics that mention abortion.
This administration’s new gag rule is so extreme, it could result in federal funding being cut off from any health clinic that even mentions abortion. Let’s just be clear about what this is — an assault on women’s health. https://t.co/tk0eWkaYIt
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 29, 2018
“This administration’s new gag rule is so extreme, it could result in federal funding being cut off from any health clinic that even mentions abortion,” she tweeted.
The proposed rule allows Title X grant recipients to give nondirective counseling about abortion services.
President Donald Trump’s administration unveiled a proposal last week that would block clinics that perform abortions from receiving federal Title X family planning grants. Under the rule, Title X-funded clinics could not provide, promote or support abortion as a method of family planning.
The proposal is similar to a rule implemented by President Ronald Reagan’s administration that required Title X grant recipients to be physically and financially separate from clinics that provided abortions. The Reagan-era measure included a “domestic gag rule” that prohibited the clinics from counseling patients about abortion services as a method of family planning.
The White House said in a press release on May 18 that the proposed measure does not include a Reagan-like gag rule on counseling. But abortion rights groups and lawmakers said that the new requirements would still amount to a domestic gag rule. Harris went even farther, claiming that clinics that mention abortion at all would be ineligible for grant funds.
Title X-funded clinics would be able to discuss abortion with patients under the new rule, though. The proposal on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website says that doctors could provide nondirective counseling on abortion – counseling that gives information on all available options, including abortion, without encouraging one option over another.
Harris included an article from Self in her tweet about the proposed changes. But the article contradicts her claim. An update in the article noted that according to HHS, the rule would not bar nondirective counseling on abortion.
The HHS proposal also requires a “bright line” of physical and financial separation between clinics that perform and support abortion and grant-eligible family planning programs. That could make hundreds of clinics that currently receive Title X funds, like Planned Parenthood clinics, ineligible for the grant.
The law prohibits federal funds from being used on abortion, but clinics that perform abortions can receive the Title X grants for eligible family planning services like breast cancer screening, contraceptives or counseling. Anti-abortion advocates argue that the grants act as a subsidy for abortion providers because it allows them to free up funds in other parts of their budgets.
Abortion rights advocates like the Planned Parenthood Action Fund argue that the new rules would “remove the guarantee that patients get full and accurate information about their health care from their doctor.” Currently, Title X-funded clinics are required to provide abortion counseling and referrals for abortions upon request.
The HHS proposal removes that counseling requirement. While clinics can talk to patients about abortion, they can also choose not to. That opens the door for family planning centers that oppose abortion, like crisis pregnancy centers, to receive Title X funds.
The rule would also prohibit Title X clinics from referring patients for an abortion elsewhere. “Referrals for abortion are, by definition, directive,” the proposal argues. The clinics can, however, provide pregnant women with a list of health care services that include abortion providers – but only if the woman “clearly states” that she has decided to have an abortion.
Under the Reagan-era rule, women who asked about abortion were supposed to be told that the clinic did not “consider abortion to be an appropriate part of family planning.” The Reagan-era gag rule was never fully implemented due to court challenges, though, and President Bill Clinton suspended the rule after he took office.
The Supreme Court did affirm in 1991 that the rule was constitutional, however. “The Government can, without violating the Constitution, selectively fund a program to encourage certain activities it believes to be in the public interest, without at the same time funding an alternate program which seeks to deal with the problem in another way,” Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the Rust v. Sullivan majority opinion.
Trump also reinstated the Mexico City Policy, or “global gag rule,” during his first days in office. The policy, also first implemented by the Reagan administration, prohibits federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that perform, promote or counsel patients on abortion.
Harris did not respond to a request for comment.
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