Health & Fitness

Planned Parenthood clinics will lose Title X funds rather than follow new ‘gag rule’

Planned Parenthood Mar Monte - Modesto location on McHenry Avenue. August 22, 2019
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte - Modesto location on McHenry Avenue. August 22, 2019

Planned Parenthood — Mar Monte clinic in Modesto will remain open and it plans to expand its services in the area despite forfeiting Title X funds.

Earlier this week, the Planned Parenthood national organization walked away from nearly $60 million in Title X federal dollars rather than comply with a new Trump administration rule that bars Title X-funded providers from making referrals for abortions. Planned Parenthood refers to this restriction as a “gag rule.”

“In California, we’ve been watching this for a while and each affiliate has a contingency plan,” said Patsy Montgomery. “We have strong support from private citizens who understand what we do.” Montgomery is the associate vice president of external affairs at California Planned Parenthood — Mar Monte.

Planned Parenthood — Mar Monte is one of seven affiliates in the state. They operate in 42 counties in mid-California and northern Nevada, including the only Planned Parenthood clinic in Stanislaus County. The clinic is located in Modesto on McHenry Avenue and has patients from Merced, San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties, as well as Stanislaus.

Planned Parenthood Services

In 2018, Mar Monte served nearly 83,000 clients and had a budget of $47 million. About 4% ($4.6 million) was from government grants and contracts. Almost three-fourths of their funding came from MediCal and related programs (45%) and Family PACT (26%), a California reproductive health program for low-income individuals, including teens. The remaining funding was from donations and private insurance.

Montgomery emphasized that Planned Parenthood provides comprehensive reproductive healthcare to anyone, with priority for low-income women. Their services include screening for cervical cancer and STDs, breast exams, pregnancy testing, birth control and supplies, sex education and counseling about safety in relationships, among other preventive services.

According to the 2017 annual report, California Planned Parenthood clinics had nearly 400,000 visits and less than 5% were for abortions.

“We’re a major testing and treating center for STDs,” said Montgomery. She said this is important, for example, because Stanislaus County is No. 3 in the state for the number of babies born with congenital syphilis.

Planned Parenthood also provides a safety net for adolescents to access reproductive, as well as some primary, healthcare. Nationally, about 17% of the 2.8 million patients are 19 and younger — many who couldn’t otherwise receive care due to finances, limited access or unsafe home environments.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about 55% of teens have had sex by the age of 18. Teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates reached historic lows in 2011 and have continued to decline, and this is driven by access to contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization

In some areas, such as rural communities and impoverished urban areas, Planned Parenthood provides the only access to care.

Lawsuits against Title X new rule

Title X is a federal program that has been in place since 1970 during the Nixon administration. The program was designed to ensure that all individuals, with priority for low-income women, have access to healthcare related to family planning.

The new rule says that organizations that accept Title X funds may talk to patients about abortion, but they can’t refer women for abortions or suggest where they could obtain the procedure.

“We have a real ethical challenge with withholding information from patients, so we knew we would likely not be in compliance,” said Montgomery.

The American Medical Association (AMA) filed a lawsuit in Oregon, with Planned Parenthood and Oregon Medical Association, against the proposed rule, because it would limit what doctors can say to their patients. The AMA said under the rule, physicians would be withholding medical information about all of the options available for women and it would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.

Lawsuits from 20 states, including California, the District of Columbia and individual health professionals were consolidated into the Oregon lawsuit. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction from lower courts, allowing the new rules to take effect.

The AMA and Planned Parenthood filed a motion for emergency reconsideration. The request was denied by a larger en banc panel of 9th circuit judges, but the legal challenges are ongoing.

In addition to the AMA, more than two dozen professional medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, oppose the new rule.

Anti-abortion groups have praised the new rule and the loss of funding to Planned Parenthood, according to an NPR report.

Montgomery referred to a quote from Planned Parenthood’s national president, Alex McGill Johnson, from an interview with CBS News, “We’re not political by nature, but we’ve been politicized. We are primarily a healthcare provider.”

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.