If you are a woman of limited means living in the state of Maine, and you find yourself pregnant, there’s a good chance you’ll end up at one of 18 Maine Family Planning clinics scattered around the state. As the sole Title X-funded program in Maine, MFP is, essentially, the only choice for low-income women in the state. The organization served 24,000 of those women last year. There’s no telling how many patients they’ll serve this year — according to the organization, a new Trump Administration rule is could force the closure of all 18 clinics’ doors.
MFP and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit against the Trump administration on Wednesday in an effort to stop the rule from going into effect. It’s the second lawsuit to hit the Trump administration in as many days over the new rules governing Title X, the federal family planning program. The rule, published in the federal register on Tuesday, is set to go into effect on May 4th.
Under the new restrictions — debuted by the department of Health and Human Services in February — family planning clinics that accept federal dollars would not be allowed to refer patients to abortion services or discuss abortion as a medical option. The same clinics would also be required to provide pregnant patients with information on prenatal care — even if those women did not intend to carry their pregnancy to term or if the pregnancy posed a risk to their health.
In the past, clinics that accepted Title X money have been allowed to provide abortions as long as they did not use Title X money to perform them. But under the Trump administration’s new rules, there must be “physical and financial” separation between clinics accepting federal funding and facilities that perform abortions or engage in other “prohibited activities” like, for instance, allowing brochures with information about abortion to sit out on a table.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Maine Family Planning say the rule will “wreak havoc on reproductive health care across the country, with devastating effects in the state of Maine.”
In their suit, lawyers say that the organization would be forced to withdraw from the Title X program — funding that makes up a significant portion of its budget. “Implementing the Rule will eliminate 85% of the abortion clinics in the state, and there is no evidence that other, non-Title X providers will step into the resulting void,” lawyers for the organization write in their suit. “These closures will impose enormous burdens on women who currently seek abortion services at the shuttered clinics, including onerous and potentially prohibitive increases in driving distances to receive abortion care.”
The day before the lawsuit was filed in Maine, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the attorneys general for New York and Oregon, filed a separate suit in Oregon also seeking to stop the Trump Administration rule. For Planned Parenthood, the stakes are even higher: 41 percent of the four million patients who receive care through Title X get that care at a Planned Parenthood facility. The organization stands to lose millions of dollars in funding if the rule goes into effect. The proposed changes, the attorneys general of New York and Oregon and lawyers for Planned Parenthood agree would “decimate” Title X, “with severe and irreparable public health consequences across the United States.”
The onerous new rules, they insist, it would interfere with doctors’ Hippocratic oath, giving “vast swaths of providers no choice but to withdraw from Title X entirely. The resulting exodus would cause major gaps in access to care, harm public health, and produce significant, unnecessary cost.”
The outlook is not much better for clinics that stay in program, either. In their suit, Planned Parenthood predicts that “for those who remain in the program, money siphoned for compliance will mean less money for patients. For Title X programs across the country, that would result in fewer services and shorter hours, staff layoffs and health center closures, particularly in the most underserved areas.”
The suit envisions a worst-case scenario, touching off “a national public health crisis… pregnancies that are unintended, and thus riskier, will increase. The number of abortions will also increase. And there will be fewer tests for sexually transmitted infections and cancer screens — putting patients and their partners at great health risk.”