The Trump administration continued to target abortion rights Friday, proposing to bar federal family-planning funds from health centers in Massachusetts and other states that either provide abortion or that refer patients to clinics that do.
In Massachusetts, the Title X program that Trump wants to restrict currently provides more than $6 million to subsidize care at 93 health centers, including four Planned Parenthood branches. About 66,072 people in Massachusetts rely on the funding for services like birth control, cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, according to the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
“It’s pretty far-reaching, beyond the impact to us at Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
Abortion foes applauded the move as a long-sought means of disentangling taxpayer funds from centers that provide abortion, by establishing a clear barrier between their activities.
“This money will now be redirected to comprehensive family health and planning centers that don’t perform abortions and understand that abortion is not health care,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini said in a statement. She said the grass-roots antiabortion activists look forward to restoring “a culture of life here in the United States.”
Nationally, more than 4 million people use funding from Title X, a $260 million program for health care services. Most are low-income individuals, but some are teenagers or young adults with family health insurance who seek confidential services.
Planned Parenthood officials assailed the plan, calling it an abortion “gag rule” that would limit doctors from discussing abortion. Even though abortion is not offered at all of their branches, they balked at the notion of separating services to keep Title X funding — a proposal that the Trump administration has repeatedly floated with the organization.
“We will never turn our back on providing the full range of reproductive health care,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told reporters during a conference call.
As a result, Planned Parenthood stands to lose millions.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which receives $1.35 million in Title X funds, would also be affected. The agency disperses funds to nine clinics, including Tapestry Health and Holyoke Health Center in Western Massachusetts.
State officials said they would review any proposed changes to determine the impact to the Commonwealth. However, Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s administration said Friday that the state has a responsibility to ensure women have a full array of reproductive services.
“Governor Baker supports women’s health and believes the Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure access to the important health care services offered by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers in all corners of our state,” said Lizzy Guyton, Baker’s communications director.
The timing on the administrative rule change remained unclear. The US Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged on Friday that it submitted the proposal but did not release the language of the rule, which has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review. A comment period is expected before the rule would be finalized.
Federal law already prohibits federal funding for abortion, so Title X does not pay for those services. However, Title X subsidizes family planning services for low-income women at health centers that also perform abortions, leading abortion opponents to argue that the funds are ultimately shared.
Advocates for reproductive rights raise alarm that the move would usher in a “gag rule” that would prohibit doctors from speaking openly with their patients, for fear of tiptoeing near the topic of abortion.
“The government is in the examination room monitoring what the doctor is going to say and that is just completely unacceptable and a breach of the doctor-patient relationship,” said Kashif Syed, senior policy analyst for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
One patient pointed to the importance of Title X funding to her life. Makenzie Peterson, now 37, of Amherst, said she was a 24-year-old making minimum wage when she discovered her partner had given her human papillomavirus.
At a Planned Parenthood in Utah, where she was then living, she was able to be diagnosed, treated, and given regular Pap smears and biopsies.
“Planned Parenthood was the only place that I could afford that,” she said.
To be eligible for free services from the health centers through Title X funds, a woman must make no more than the federal poverty level — $12,170. Individuals can get discounted services if they make less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $30,350.
The anticipated rule change would be the latest in a string of strikes against abortion and contraception funding and access.
Immediately after his inauguration, Trump reinstituted what had been known as the “global gag rule,” another Reagan-era policy that required non-government organizations around the world to agree not to perform or promote abortion as a condition of receiving US funding. A year ago, Trump signed legislation giving states the right to withhold family planning funding from clinics that provide abortion services.
Trump — who has been married three times and whose lawyer paid hush money to a porn star who was making claims of an affair — has taken pains to cultivate support among conservatives, especially those who oppose abortion. And at a time when the president is otherwise embattled on many fronts, he and Republicans who face challenges in the midterm elections are drawing energy from motivated anti-abortion activists.
Next week, Trump is the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s “Campaign for Life Gala,” by the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group whose president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said he is governing as “the most pro-life president in our nation’s history.”
Other women’s groups pledged to fight back at the ballot box.
“Americans won’t stand for this,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, the largest supporter of female candidates and a fund-raiser for Democratic women who support abortion rights.
“Proudly pro-choice Democratic women are running for office in record numbers to fight back — because days like today prove, once again, why we need more women at decision-making tables everywhere.”