Rick Bowmer / AP
The Biden administration is moving to reverse a Trump-era family planning policy that critics describe as a domestic “trick rule” for reproductive health care providers.
The proposal, released Wednesday, would largely bring the federal Title X family planning program back to its status before Trump took office. The current rules, implemented in March 2019 under Trump, prohibit any provider that delivers or refers patients to abortions from receiving federal funding through Section X to cover services such as contraception and STD screening for low-income individuals.
“As a result of the dramatic drop in delivered section X services, the final rule from 2019 undermined the title of Program X by helping fewer people plan and place births, provide fewer preventive health services, and provide fewer screenings” for sexually transmitted infections , said the proposed rule published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A 30-day public comment period for the proposed rules begins in the afternoon of April 15th.
The Trump administration implemented the current rules in an attempt to “ward off planned parenting,” which he had promised supporters during both his campaign and his presidency. It prompted more than 1,000 health clinics in dozens of states, including but not limited to Planned Parenthood, to leave the program. A report by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, estimated that the Trump rules reduced the capacity of the Title X network by 46% nationwide.
Under current law, federal funding for abortion is prohibited in most situations – although Biden and many other Democrats support ending this ban.
Voting by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2019 showed that 58% of respondents were against the Trump rules and that Republicans were almost evenly distributed in their opinion.
Opponents of abortion rights argue that anti-abortion taxpayers should not be forced to support any organization involved in providing or referring patients to abortion through public funding. Many have spoken out in favor of moving services to crisis maternity centers that advise patients against abortion, or public health clinics that provide similar services but often struggle to meet patient demand.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, told NPR that she fears the Biden administration’s proposal would make it “too easy” for providers to advise women to opt for abortion.
“The agency, titled X Financing, can refer to abortion and tell them, ‘Oh, and by the way, we’re having abortions in the same facility if you want to set up the agreement,'” Tobias said.
Healthcare providers that have offered services through Section X say they are ethically committed to offering pregnant patients a range of options based on their interest and needs, which may include abortion or adoption.
“We are not forcing anyone to make the decision that suits them,” said Lisa David, president and CEO of New York Public Health Solutions, which primarily serves low-income New Yorkers in need of a range of healthcare . “But we want to provide information if they want it, and a referral if they want it.”
The David organization, which does not deliver abortions but refers patients to the procedure upon request, left the Title X program in response to the Trump administration’s rules. David said she has been able to temporarily cover costs through emergency funding and hopes to be able to rejoin the program under new rules from the Biden administration.