Reproductive health advocates say Trump favors abstinence-only groups in family planning funds

The Trump administration is making it more difficult for Planned Parenthood to receive family planning funds.

Alex Azar, new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, speaks after being sworn in as President Donald J. Trump looks on January 29, 2018. CREDIT: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images
Alex Azar, new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, speaks after being sworn in as President Donald J. Trump looks on January 29, 2018. CREDIT: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

Reproductive health groups say they’re concerned about the Trump administration’s approach to family planning funds, which prioritizes groups that favor abstinence, and its embrace of ideology over evidence-based policies.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines for applications for Title X grants, which are dedicated to family planning and preventive health services. Planning services funded through Title X support testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control, and contraception education.

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The HHS document causing concern among doctors and reproductive health groups mentions “natural family planning” like the rhythm method and other tactics for preventing pregnancy that do not involve contraceptives, according to the Associated Press, as well as other forms of “natural family planning” that don’t include contraceptives. A Planned Parenthood spokesperson told AP that it appears as if the Trump administration is trying to lessen its role in the program through this document emphasizing family planning without contraceptives.

Instead, this document would give preference to groups focusing on abstinence and may halt progress in reducing teen pregnancies and unintended pregnancies, Clare Coleman, CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said, according to the AP.

These funds help provide health services to an estimated four million clients each year. The majority of Title X patients have incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

The administration already stalled the application process for Title X grants for four months. The process was supposed to begin in November and applications would be due in January. But in early February the application process hadn’t even started yet. Providers who depend on Title X grants said they were worried about keeping the doors open past the end of March.

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The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have been focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and appointing people to roles in the Department of Health and Human Services who don’t believe in birth control or abortion access.

Last May, the Trump administration tapped Teresa Manning, a law professor at George Mason University who is both anti-abortion and anti-contraception, for the position of deputy assistant secretary for Population Affairs at HHS. When she left her post this year, Valerie Huber, who is an advocate for abstinence education, took her place as acting deputy assistant secretary. Last April, the administration tapped Charmaine Yoest, for the position of assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Yoest is a well-known anti-abortion activist. In February, she left that position for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Last year, Senate Republicans got rid of an Obama administration rule that required state and local governments to distribute Title X funds to health providers without consideration of whether providers also perform abortions. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking procedural vote to let states stop clinics that perform abortions from receiving Title X funds.