No, Planned Parenthood Is Not Protected Yet

Obama's proposal is stuck in governmental limbo.

Getty Images / David McNew

The impending Donald Trump presidency spells bad news for Planned Parenthood, a family planning agency that survives largely on federal grants. Barack Obama’s proposal to protect the organization from being defunded by political attackers, put into motion in September, could prevent the Trump administration from cutting off its resources — if it passes. As of right now, the proposal is in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposal suggests making changes to the federal Title X Family Planning Program, the nation’s only grant-providing system for organizations that provide services like birth control, STD testing, and cancer screening. By statute, it’s meant to “enable individuals to freely determine the number and spacing of children,” but it doesn’t fund abortions with federal money, except under extreme circumstances. Currently, the rules about how Title X money is doled out are set by state governments, which has been problematic for Planned Parenthood; at this point in time, 14 states have taken steps to curb Title X money to the organization because it provides abortions. Legally, they are not wrong.

But if the HHS rule change is approved, the way Title X money is distributed would not be dependent on the services of the organization. Instead, it would be reliant on whether the money could perform family planning services effectively. In the words of the official proposal, state governments “may not prohibit subrecipients from participating on bases unrelated to their ability to provide Title X services.”

Had this rule change been proposed earlier, it could have prevented New Hampshire state government from refusing to renew its contract with Planned Parenthood, which provides services to more than half the state, in 2011. Likewise, the change would have protected the organization’s clinics in Florida this year, after the state barred Title X money from being awarded to it. Now, the proposal is in stuck in “pending”: After being opened up for public comment 30 days after it was introduced on September 9, it is back with the HHS, who has yet to make any announcements about it.

Many media outlets have jumped the gun on the status of this change, announcing optimistically that Planned Parenthood is “permanently protected.” This scenario isn’t reality yet, as the government website outlining the laws about family planning services still very much makes its no-abortion stance clear, but it’s possible it may be instituted before Donald Trump takes the White House in January. Whether the revision will be reneged after that is a different story altogether.

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