Pro-life activists warn that a proposed rule change to the Title X family planning program would “force religious family planning providers out of the program” because of its requirement that recipients of the federal funding provide abortion referrals.
The Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, hosted a virtual press conference Monday examining the potential consequences of proposed changes to the Title X family planning program currently under consideration by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The proposed rule change would reverse a 2019 rule implemented by the Trump administration that prevents health clinics that receive Title X funds from performing abortions or referring patients for abortions.
Moderated by the EPPC’s Josh Britton, the panelists included EPPC Senior Fellow Roger Severino, who directed the HHS Office of Civil Rights during the Trump administration. He was joined by Valerie Huber, who formerly served in the HHS Office of Global Affairs, and Senior Counsel Denise Harle from the conservative legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom.
Harle discussed “the effect of the proposed rule on women, on taxpayers and on healthcare providers’ conscience rights.”
“The current Title X rules ensure that taxpayer dollars don’t fund programs promoting abortion, but the revised Title X rule compromises healthcare professionals’ freedom of conscience by requiring Title X participants to refer patients for abortion and contraceptives,” she said.
“The revised rule targets everyone who believes abortion is not birth control and imposes a one-size-fits-all method of family planning on the public.”
Harle concluded that "the revised rule would force religious family planning providers out of the program because they can’t in good conscience abide by the government mandates.”
Severino offered a similar analysis, warning that the rule change “would coerce participants into referring for abortion.”
Harle asserted that the HHS' "proposed revision targets the basic conscience rights of American citizens by funneling business to Planned Parenthood and big abortion.”
Describing the proposed policy as reflective of “government hostility towards people of faith,” she stressed that “Title X should not be used to punish people of faith, and government programs certainly shouldn’t be used in a revenue stream for the abortion industry.”
As Huber explained, the Title X program was established in 1970 as “the only federal program dedicated solely to the provision of family planning.”
The program provides funding “to assist in the establishment and operation of voluntary family planning projects, which shall offer a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services, including natural family planning methods, infertility services and services for adolescents.”
Expressing concern that the proposed rule “blurs the line between Title X services and abortion services … and withdraws significant conscience protections,” Huber warned that the rule change would mark a “return to hostile restrictions on the grantees’ ability to select sub-recipients of … their own choosing.”
According to Severino, the proposed rule change serves as a “favor to the abortion industry and big abortion.”
Under the Trump administration’s 2019 rule, family planning clinics had to implement a “strict physical and financial separation” between family planning services and any abortion services they offer to receive federal funding. Before the rule's implementation, the nation's leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, was a leading fund recipient of the Title X program.
“When the 2019 rule came through, Planned Parenthood and many of its affiliates decided to voluntarily back out,” Severino recalled. “They chose to keep their abortion prioritized over family planning services. If they had agreed to separate their physical and financial operations, [putting] their abortion on one side and Title X family planning services on the other, they could have continued.”
Severino cited Planned Parenthood’s decision to pull out of the Title X program rather than comply with the requirements as evidence that “Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics are about abortion first, family planning second.”
Discussing the proposed rule’s intention to “allow Title X providers to refer their patients for all family planning-related services desired by the client including abortion services,” Huber concluded that “HHS is acknowledging that their referring for abortion is for the preferred purpose of family planning.”
She characterized the rule as “more focused on ideology than on the congressional intent and the statutory provisions or, for that matter, even on implementing authorized family planning services to low-income Americans.”
Huber addressed the other “problematic themes” of the proposed rule. She referred to its removal of requirements that Title X providers highlight “practical ways for minors to discuss family planning with their parents,” encourage “couples to communicate about and to share in family planning decisions together, and provide minors with counsel on how to avoid sexual coercion."
The Biden administration’s proposed rule change maintained that “the number of family planning services grantees has dropped precipitously” due to the Trump administration's rule. However, Harle alleged that the new rule would “limit options for women by forcing providers who offer natural family planning services out of the program entirely.”
Additionally, she remarked that “family planning providers have been flourishing under the 2019 Title X rules, offering women and families access to a broad range of services, including natural family planning and expanding care in many parts of the country.”
The Ethics and Public Policy Center is part of a broad coalition that submitted comments in opposition to the rule ahead of the Monday deadline for public comments.
Coalition members include pro-life groups such as Students for Life and Susan B. Anthony List as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Noting that the 30-day window for public comment was much shorter than usual, Severino contended that the Biden administration hoped to “rush out this rule to get ahead of the Supreme Court, which is considering this issue right now.”
The Trump administration rule will remain in place until the proposed rule is finalized.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org