Known as Title X, the taxpayer-funded program makes available more than $250 million a year to clinics to provide birth control and basic health care services mainly to low-income women, many of them from minority communities. Under former President Donald Trump, clinics were barred from referring patients for abortions, prompting a mass exit by service providers affiliated with Planned Parenthood, as well as several states and other independent organizations.
Women’s groups labeled the Trump policy a “gag rule,” and medical organizations called it a violation of the clinician-patient relationship.
But religious and social conservatives praised the policy for imposing a strict separation between family planning services and abortion. Under federal law, clinics cannot use federal family planning money to pay for abortions. However, abortion opponents argue that birth control funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions, amounts to an indirect subsidy.
On Monday, the National Right to Life Committee criticized the Biden administration for “supplementing the abortion industry through taxpayer funds."
Title X family planning clinics served about 3.9 million clients in 2018, but HHS estimates that number fell by nearly 40% after the Trump policy. The upheaval may have led to more than 180,000 unintended pregnancies, the agency said. In all, more than one-quarter of the clinics left the program. Although several states stepped up with their own no-strings-attached funding, women in some parts of the country still lost access.
Combined with service disruptions due to COVID-19 shutdowns, “this has just been a massive one-two punch to the system,” said Coleman.
Biden campaigned on a promise to overturn the restrictions on family planning clinics, but abortion was not a central issue in the 2020 presidential race. It may become one in the 2022 midterm elections to determine who controls Congress.
Restrictive state laws in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere have prompted a mobilization by abortion rights supporters, who fear a conservative-leaning Supreme Court will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally. Hundreds of abortion-themed protests were held around the country Saturday, including one that brought thousands of abortion rights supporters to the steps of the court.
The Supreme Court has allowed the Texas law to take effect, but has not ruled on the substantive legal questions behind that statute, which bans most abortions in the state. The justices will hear arguments Dec. 1 on the Mississippi law, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The court now tilts decidedly to the right after Trump appointed three conservative justices. Twelve states have passed laws that would ban abortion entirely if Roe is overturned.
“Given the attacks on abortion in Texas and across the country, it’s more important than ever that patients can access their choice of birth control and other health care through Title X,” Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement.
The new abortion referral policy for family planning clinics will take effect Nov. 8.
Associated Press writer David Crary contributed to this report.
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2019, file photo, pamphlets are shown in the clinic of Planned Parenthood of Utah in Salt Lake City. The Biden administration on Oct. 4, 2021, reversed a ban on abortion referrals by family planning clinics, lifting a Trump-era restriction as political and legal battles over abortion grow sharper from Texas to the U.S. Supreme Court. Groups representing the clinics say they hope the rule reversal leads to the return of hundreds of service providers that left the program to protest the Trump administration's policy. HHS has estimated that the upheaval led to as many as 180,000 unintended pregnancies. The clinics provide birth control and basic health care mainly to low-income women.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Credit: Rick Bowmer
Credit: Rick Bowmer
Demonstrators rally to to demand continued access to abortion during the March for Reproductive Justice, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in New York. The first Women's March of the Biden administration sets its sights on the Supreme Court, part of nationwide protests demanding continued access to abortion in a year when conservative lawmakers and judges have put it in jeopardy. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Credit: Mary Altaffer
Credit: Mary Altaffer