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Planned Parenthood says 42,000 in Michigan at risk from abortion ‘gag rule’

Doctor counseling patient

Planned Parenthood said Monday it would withdraw from a longstanding federal funding program for low-income patients -‒ including patients in Michigan ‒- citing what it called “unfair” gag rules that would forbid its clinics from making abortion referrals.  

The loss of funding threatens a range of health care ‒ from family planning to wellness visits to cancer screenings ‒ for millions of Americans, including 42,000 in Michigan, Planned Parenthood said. 

The new rules, hailed by abortion opponents, were announced earlier this year.

Providers such as Planned Parenthood have long been prohibited from using federal funds to provide abortions. Under the new rules, providers receiving federal aid for low-income and uninsured patients, known as Title X funds, also cannot “promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.”

Abortion-rights advocates have argued that such a restriction intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship and compels providers to withhold critical information from patients.

“Unfortunately, the new gag rule that is being enforced by the Trump-Pence administration makes it impossible to provide comprehensive care and information to our patients consistent with medical ethics and our evidence-based standards of care,” Lori Carpentier, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said in a statement.

Carpentier said Planned Parenthood of Michigan refuses “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients in Michigan”; she called the rule “unethical and dangerous.”

The new rule also dictates that any provider accepting Title X funds makes a “financial and physical separation” between facilities where an abortion is performed and where other services are provided with Title X funds.

Planned Parenthood officials said low-income patients in some areas of the state will now be left with no choice for free or low-cost health care without the Title X funds. County health departments also receive those funds, but may not be able to absorb patients who may be diverted from Planned Parenthood clinics, the group said. 

Planned Parenthood’s national office said it is “working to make sure all Planned Parenthood patients can still get the health care they need” and it advised patients to contact their local offices to see how much their health care needs will cost.

Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, which opposes abortion, said any threat to health care services is a strategic move based on ideology, rather than budget realities. Public health clinics also receive federal Title X funds, she said, and don’t provide abortions.

“You know, [Planned Parenhood] claim[s] to be a woman’s health care provider, and yet they don’t want to provide Title X services, which includes family planning, because they also can’t promote abortion,” Marnon said. “It’s a choice that Planned Parenthood wants to make, but it’s not about the money … This is an ideological choice in my opinion.”

Established in 1970, the Title X program funds services to about 4 million people each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Nationally, Planned Parenthood provides services to about 40 percent of those low-income recipients, according to its national office.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state Attorney General Dana Nessel ‒ both abortion-rights Democrats ‒ joined a coalition of 20 other states, as well as the American Medical Association, in a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the new rule in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon. 

Michigan patients receive about $7 million in Title X funds for care at 93 clinic sites in 72 out of 83 counties in Michigan, according to the state. Planned Parenthood said it receives about $4.2 million of that money.

Late Monday, Whitmer issued a statement calling the Trump administration rule change “a clear attempt to force expert health care providers out of our program for safe, affordable birth control and take away women’s right to choose. Every person deserves to make their own decisions about their health care. “

In Michigan, Planned Parenthood provides comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services for the majority of all Title X patients, or about 70 percent. In some counties, there is “no other option for the high quality, low- or no-cost reproductive health care and birth control that Title X providers guarantee,” according to the group. 

Monday’s announcement is the latest development in an emotional national debate that has exploded this year, following a rightward shift on the U.S. Supreme Court with last year’s appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The change stoked conservatives’ hopes of reversing Roe v. Wade, the high court’s 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide.

Lawmakers in Lansing and other statehouses controlled by Republican majorities have debated dramatic restrictions on abortion. In May, the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature voted to ban a common second-trimester procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which abortion opponents refer to as “dismemberment abortion.” 

Whitmer vowed to veto the bill.

In response, Michigan Right to Life launched an effort in June to collect 400,000 signatures that will allow lawmakers to make changes to Michigan’s abortion law, bypassing the promised veto. Marnon, of Right to Life, said Monday that signatures continue to be collected daily.

Following Monday’s announcement, Whitmer reiterated that she will veto legislation that “restricts women’s autonomy over their own bodies, including the harmful bills passed earlier this year that would ban a safe procedure that has saved women’s lives.” 

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