Republicans have a long way to go in their bid to defund Planned Parenthood, but the Trump administration has leveraged a federal family-planning grant program to put the squeeze on the reproductive health care and abortion giant.
The Department of Health and Human Services trimmed its funding to Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates last week in its 2019 Title X grants, redirecting millions in grants to other health-care organizations, including for the first time the Obria Group, a pro-life pregnancy center based in Southern California.
Planned Parenthood affiliates were awarded $48.4 million over three years — a reduction of about $7 million from the previous round of multiyear grant awards — and four were zeroed out entirely, replaced by grants to state health departments in Hawaii, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia.
That drop represents little more than a rounding error for PPFA, which reported $2.2 billion in revenues in its 2017-18 annual report, including $564 million in federal funding, but for pro-life advocates, the haircut sent the message that women seeking health care have plenty of choices.
“What it really does is it shows that Planned Parenthood can be defunded,” said Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for Students for Life of America. “It also shows that it’s a farce when the abortion lobby says that then women won’t receive health care. Lots of people don’t use Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood denounced the drop in its grant awards, arguing that stripping funding to its affiliates “puts health care at risk for more than 40,000 patients who rely on Planned Parenthood Title X health centers in 5 states.”
The Title X program, which awards $286 million in annual grants, prioritizes family-planning services for low-income patients.
“This continued attack on Title X will result in dismantling our nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, risking access to comprehensive health care for millions of low-income women and families,” PPFA President said Leana Wen in a Friday statement.
The immediate loss of grant dollars may be the least of Planned Parenthood’s concerns. In February, HHS announced a proposed final rule, expected to take effect in May, stating that abortion will no longer be considered a method of family planning.
The change means that Title X grant recipients may discuss abortion with patients, but not refer them to specific clinics. Grantees would also no longer be permitted to perform abortions at facilities funded with the federal dollars.
Planned Parenthood said the requirements “could include forcing health centers to build separate entrances and exits, construct whole new health centers, or hire a whole second staff of doctors, nurses, and administrative staff.”
Ms. Hamrick described such a division as appropriate, given the prohibition on using federal dollars for abortion.
“They take that money, and it helps keep the lights on,” she said. “Money is fungible. While those grants given the size of the federal budget aren’t gigantic, they really are sending a ripple effect throughout the world of abortion vendors, because they have counted on that money to help underwrite their business.”
Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight the “gag rule,” while pro-life advocates say it’s more like a “marketing rule” aimed at preventing PPFA from advertising its abortion services.
The rule also eliminates the requirement for grant recipients to provide patients with information about abortion, opening up the Title X grant process to health-care organizations like the Obria Group.
The nonprofit affiliate, which will receive up to $5.1 million over three years, runs 21 health centers and 11 mobile clinics in five states, providing pregnancy testing, prenatal care through delivery, HIV/STD testing, pap smears, and other services, but does not offer contraception or abortion.
“With this grant, the administration has opened up a new avenue of health care choices for low income and underserved women and their families in California,” said Obria Group founder and CEO Kathleen Eaton Bravo in a statement.
Its donors include Catholic organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Orange, and Knights of Columbus Charities, according to a 2015 tax document on GuideStar.
Board members include prominent pro-life activists like Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden; Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and LiveAction’s Lila Rose.
“Many women want the opportunity to visit a professional, comprehensive health care facility – not an abortion clinic — for their health care needs; today HHS gave women that choice,” Ms. Bravo said.
Ms. Wen took a swipe at the grant, accusing the HHS of “removing funding from these trusted health centers and providing funding to entities that do not provide evidence-based treatment.”
The pro-choice group Equity Forward said it had filed an open-records request seeking communications between the agency and Obria.
“It’s clear that Trump’s health department and Secretary Alex Azar have made it their agenda to restrict our access to high-quality, comprehensive and medically sound reproductive health care,” said Mary Alice Carter, Equity Forward executive director. “This latest announcement is just one of many harmful decisions that will limit low-income people’s access to legitimate care.”
Planned Parenthood performed 332,757 abortions in Fiscal Year 2017, an increase from the previous year’s 321,3834. There were about 926,000 U.S. abortions in 2014, down 12 percent from 2011, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.
Planned Parenthood has seen its clientele decline in recent years, listing 2.4 million patients in its latest 2017-18 report, while closing 37 percent of its clinics from 1995 to 2018, according to the American Life League.
The number of U.S. abortions has declined steadily since the early 1980s, hitting in 2014 its lowest point since abortion was legalized nationwide in 1973, Guttmacher reported.
“There are better service options out there for real medical care,” Ms. Hamrick said. “You don’t go to Planned Parenthood for a flu shot. You certainly don’t go there for a mammogram. Community health centers are available. Contraception is available. Women’s don’t need Planned Parenthood.”