Both Hartzler and Smith are among the 153 U.S. representatives who signed an April 30 letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. In separate letters, 41 members of the U.S. Senate and over 80 pro-life leaders echoed the members of Congress.
The U.S. Representatives said the regulations for the Title X program have been largely unchanged for about two decades and are in need of reform.
While federal law prohibits federal funding of programs that treat abortion as a method of family planning, “the regulations governing the Title X program have blurred that line by requiring all grantees to refer for abortion,” said their letter. This deters applicants who do not accept abortion as a method of family planning.
“New regulations should remove abortion referrals from the program,” said the letter. The members of Congress criticized locating family planning programs in the same facility as abortion providers, which creates the risk of misuse of funds for abortion and conveys the message that abortion is a means of family planning. Title X service sites should be physically and financially separate from abortion facilities, they said.
The letter voiced “deep concern” that Planned Parenthood has received close to $60 million annually from 2013-2015 under the Title X program.
“Once again, we see that federal funds are being funneled to abortion service sites when the majority of Americans are opposed to this industry,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), another signer of the letter. She called for a review and update of regulations to stop funding for programs like Planned Parenthood’s, which she said “disgustingly dub abortion ‘family planning’.”
“It is family destruction, and it’s time to ensure that our money is funding actual family planning programs, and not our nation’s largest abortion provider,” Black said.
A 1991 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld similar rules implemented under the Reagan administration to ensure that Title X funding did not go to programs where abortion was considered a form of family planning, the letter said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs is the subject of two lawsuits, NPR reports - one from Planned Parenthood and another from National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The lawsuits objects that the Office of Population Affairs guidance, released in February and known as a Federal Opportunity Announcement, does not specifically mention contraception but does mention “fertility awareness” in its call for a broad range of family planning services under Title X.
In February of this year, the HHS department also announced $260 million available for family planning methods and services, and included contraception explicitly.
Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit seeks to block the guidance document. The suit was filed on behalf of its affiliates in Utah and Ohio. These are states where Planned Parenthood serves a majority of patients who benefit from Title X.
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Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, claimed the policy was a “radical shift that could have a big impact on people’s health.” As written, she said, it “flies in the face of the best medical practice.”
Clare Coleman, president & CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, told National Public Radio the approach was “disrespectful” to low-income parents and undermines Title X because, in his view, it has a “narrow, ideological vision of how people should live their lives,” including the view that there should be no sex until marriage.
Among the critics of the lawsuits was Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List. She charged that Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit was “ridiculous.”
Speaking to NPR, she similarly claimed that Planned Parenthood treats the Title X Family Program as “their personal slush fund” to which “only they are entitled for propping up their massive abortion enterprise.”