Planned Parenthood sets exit from family planning program

Raising the stakes in a standoff over women’s health, Planned Parenthood said Wednesday it will leave the federal family planning program within days unless a court puts a hold on Trump administration rules that bar clinics from referring patients for abortions.

Spokeswoman Erica Sackin told The Associated Press that Planned Parenthood clinics “will be formally out of the Title X program” by Monday unless the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco halts the new rules. The appeals court is weighing a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood and others to overturn the rules; a panel of judges in effect had earlier allowed the administration to go ahead with enforcement.

Monday also is the deadline set by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for participants in the family planning program to submit plans on how they would comply with the rules, which are set to take effect Sept. 18.

In a notice to the court Wednesday, Planned Parenthood said it “will be forced to withdraw” from program by close of business on Monday unless the full court intervenes.

It’s unclear what the immediate impact would be for patients next week because Planned Parenthood has also pledged to keep its doors open as it contests the administration’s policy change.

It’s seems likely that any disruptions will vary from state to state. Some states have said they would step in to take over from the federal government, and some family planning providers have indicated they’re looking for other sources of funding.

Planned Parenthood and its affiliates are the largest providers in the family planning program, which serves about 4 million clients annually. In addition to birth control, clinics provide basic health services and cancer screenings for many low-income women.

Although federal family planning money cannot be used to pay for abortions, clinics had been able to refer women seeking abortions to another provider. In many cases, that would also be a Planned Parenthood facility.

The administration’s family planning rule is part of a series of efforts to remake government policy on reproductive health to please conservatives who are a key part of President Donald Trump’s political base. Religious conservatives see the family planning program as providing an indirect subsidy to Planned Parenthood, which runs family planning clinics and is also a major abortion provider.

In addition to the ban on abortion referrals, the rule’s requirements include financial separation from facilities that provide abortion, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice, and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients. Clinics would have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions.

HHS has previously said it does not want to see a disruption in services and has received no official notice from providers planning to drop out. Officials also say the administration is willing to accommodate clinics that are making a “good-faith” effort to comply.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman.

Planned Parenthood and other family planning program participants call the administration’s policy a “gag rule,” saying it would interfere with the duty of medical professionals to provide complete information to their patients. Also seeking to overturn the rule are several states and professional groups, including the American Medical Association.

“For all intents and purposes, (the new policy) imposes a gag rule on what information physicians can provide to their patients,” the AMA said in a statement this year. “The patient-physician relationship relies on trust, open conversation and informed decision making and the government should not be telling physicians what they can and cannot say to their patients.”

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