Biden administration allows funding of abortion referrals, providers under new rule

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The Biden administration will allow Planned Parenthood and other clinics providing abortions to once again receive federal family planning funds, although the funds cannot directly pay for abortions.

In a final rule announced on Monday, clinics participating in the Title X family planning program – which funds contraceptives and family planning services for low-income communities – can once again refer for abortions, and do not have to be physically separate from abortion facilities.

In 2019, the Trump administration had required Title X recipients to not refer for abortions, nor could clinic recipients be co-located with abortion facilities.

The rule was issued to help ensure separation of Title X funding from abortion. Under the original statute that created the program in 1970, federal grants would fund contraceptives for low-income women, but would not fund abortion as a method of family planning.

However, in April the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a proposed reversal of the 2019 Title X program requirements. According to the final rule, which will be officially published in the Federal Register on Oct. 7, Title X recipients can provide “nondirective” counseling to patients, including on abortion.

The political action arm of Planned Parenthood applauded the announcement on Monday. “Great Monday news: there will no longer be a gag rule on #TitleX funding!” the Twitter account for Planned Parenthood Action stated. In 2019, Planned Parenthood withdrew from the Title X program rather than comply with the Trump administration’s prohibitions on abortion referrals and requirement of physical separation of Title X clinics from abortion facilities.

Planned Parenthood Action added that the new rule included “disappointing language allowing providers to refuse to counsel/refer patients for abortions due to their own personal beliefs.”

The rule states that “objecting individuals and grantees will not be required to counsel or refer for abortions” in the program.

Under the text of the final rule, Title X recipients can provide abortion referrals but “may not take further affirmative action” such as transporting the patient to an abortion clinic. They may also “be a dues paying participant in a national abortion advocacy organization, so long as there are other legitimate program-related reasons for the affiliation.”

Pro-life groups have argued that the program’s funding of abortion providers, while not directly subsidizing abortions, helped free up other resources at those clinics for abortions. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, forfeited an estimated $60 million in annual Title X funding when it withdrew from the program in 2019.

“The Department agrees that it is not under a duty to subsidize abortion. It does not do so, and it is prohibited from doing so,” the HHS rule stated, adding that the agency “disagrees that Title X grant funds allow for the ‘creation of slush funds’ or that those funds are ‘fungible.’”

The 2019 rule created a gap in health care services by driving clinics out of the Title X program, the rule claimed.

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