Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which operates four health care clinics in Maine, including one in Portland, announced Wednesday that it will stop accepting federal dollars rather than submit to the terms of Trump administration rules that bar Planned Parenthood from making abortion referrals.

At stake is $400,000 in annual family planning funds provided by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to Planned Parenthood in Maine. Critics have denounced the new regulation, which takes effect Monday, as a “gag rule.”

Planned Parenthood’s national spokeswoman Erica Sackin said that its affiliated clinics “will be formally out of the Title X program” by Monday, passing up federal funding, unless the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco halts the new rules, the Associated Press reported. 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.

The Northern New England chapter of Planned Parenthood says it will also leave Title X, a decision that Nicole Clegg, vice president of public affairs, says will affect about 12,000 patients served by clinics in Portland, Biddeford, Sanford and Topsham. Abortions are only provided in the Portland clinic.

The Trump administration’s rule prohibits providers receiving Title X funds from telling patients how or where to access abortion. Under the rule, Planned Parenthood would also be barred from providing abortion services in the same buildings where other health services such as cancer and STD screenings occur.

“Their intention is to make abortion services cost prohibitive,” Clegg said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.

The proposed ruled prompted lawsuits from across the country earlier this year. In March, Maine Family Planning – another abortion provider – and the global Center Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland.

“Our patients’ lives and well-being are our number one priority. We will not compromise the rights of our patients to receive full uncensored medical information,” Clegg said in a statement. “Without action by the Ninth Circuit, the gag rule will make it impossible for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to participate” in the Title X program.

Maine Family Planning acts as Maine’s grant manager for reproductive health care, receiving about $1.8 million a year from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Clegg said. Planned Parenthood health care clinics in Maine receive about $400,000 a year of that total.

Last month, Maine Family Planning President and CEO George Hill, in a Press Herald column, announced that the provider would withdraw from Title X after overseeing the program in Maine for nearly 50 years. Maine Family Planning operates 18 clinics in Maine.

In his column, Hill accuses the Trump administration of imposing unjustified rules that get between patients and providers, all because of political ideology. He called the gag rule another salvo by the Trump-Pence administration against poor people who live in rural communities and who struggle to get affordable health care services.

Clegg said that effective Monday, Planned Parenthood will stop accepting those funds because it would require staff to withhold information and advice, a standard that the organization finds unacceptable.

“We refuse to let the Trump Administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “The gag rule is unethical and dangerous, and we will not subject our patients to it.

“Every person deserves to make their own decisions about their health care, not to have Donald Trump or Mike Pence make those decisions for them,” Johnson said. “Let’s call this rule what it is, unethical and a gag on health care providers.”

Johnson said the Trump administration is targeting providers like Planned Parenthood in an effort to end access to birth control and other reproductive health care. Nationally, Title X provides funding to 4 million patients. Planned Parenthood serves about 40 percent of that total.

In Maine, Clegg said the rule will disproportionately affect people who are already facing structural barriers to care, including people of color, immigrants, people with low incomes, people with disabilities and people in medically underserved areas.

Clegg said that Planned Parenthood will continue to serve its patients, but the level of service may change without the funds.

“We’ll continue to do the best we can,” Clegg said.

Monday’s deadline is the culmination of a legal tussle that began several months ago when the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new Trump administration rule that changes the criteria for recipients of family planning grant money, a change sought by anti-abortion activists.

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, the Associated Press reported.

HHS spokeswoman Mia Heck said Planned Parenthood represents fewer than 400 of 4,000 service sites around the country.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the final rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods,” Heck said in a statement.

It seemed likely that disruptions to the 50-year-old program would vary from state to state. Some states have said they would step in to take over from the federal government.

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 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 Trump’s political base, the Associated Press reported. Religious conservatives see the program as providing an indirect subsidy to Planned Parenthood, which runs family planning clinics and is also a major abortion provider.

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.

 

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.