- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Three Planned Parenthood affiliates sued Wednesday to demand taxpayer money keep flowing to the country’s largest abortion network, saying a new Trump administration policy appears designed to cut them out of family planning money.

Affiliates in Wisconsin, Ohio and Utah said changes announced by Health and Human Services would boost clinics that focus on abstinence rather than providing contraceptives.

They said HHS didn’t follow the law last year when it issued the new funding priorities for doling out money under Title X, which is the government’s main family planning fund.

“Such an unjustified loss of Title X funds would be a disaster for the low-income patients,” the affiliates said in their lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia.

The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a similar lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.

Clare Coleman, president of the association, said there’s broad public support for taxpayer funding going to help poor women with birth control.

“We’ve seen dramatic examples of what happens when states like Texas and Indiana tamper with family planning funds: substantial numbers of people are deprived of health care they want, resulting in significantly higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy,” Ms. Coleman said.

The Title X program was created in 1971 to provide family planning for low income women. While the money itself can’t be spent on abortion, it can flow to abortion providers who also offer family planning services.

Those rules have sparked ongoing legal battles.

In 1991, the Supreme Court upheld HHS rules prohibiting clinics that receive Title X funds from advising or referring patients for abortion services.

I. Glenn Cohen, a law professor at Harvard, said that kind of precedent suggests the government has latitude to set conditions on the funding.

“Challenging an administration’s decision on what funding priorities to set, a litigant faces an uphill battle,” he said.

Mr. Cohen said if the court were to decide HHS didn’t follow the proper steps when issuing its new policy, the government could go back and do it accordingly.

Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion network, says it also accounts for about 40 percent of Title X money. In some states, it’s a majority.

The organization said when its taxpayer money is cut, women suffer. In the lawsuit, it pointed to budget cuts in Wisconsin that prompted five clinics to close — and said no other clinics stepped up to take their place.

One county saw a “spike” in sexually transmitted infections because there were no treatment options for low-income women, the lawsuit says.

The legal battles come after news emerged that Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Trump, urged him to defund Planned Parenthood in accordance with his campaign promise.

The money would instead be directed toward Women’s Qualified Health Centers, which do not provide abortions.

Pro-life groups and roughly 200 members of Congress are also putting pressure on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to cut off tax dollars flowing to businesses offering abortion.

“For far too long the Title X Family Planning Program has been integrated with abortion centers,” their letter read. “It is time to act swiftly to disentangle abortion centers from the Title X network. Doing so would be consistent with the President’s pledge and subsequent actions to defund Planned Parenthood and reallocate funding to alternative providers.”

More than 150 representatives and 41 senators signed the letter.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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