The Trump administration took a major step in advancing its priorities for family planning programs last week. On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opened the application process for family planning organizations seeking federal funds under Title X. The new process overturns the Obama administration requirement that all forms of family planning and birth control services receive equal consideration. Instead, the HHS is making funding for faith-based programs and natural family planning methods (ones that don’t use “artificial” contraceptives, such as condoms or birth control pills).
“The Trump-Pence administration is quietly taking aim at access to birth control under the nation’s program for affordable reproductive health care, which 4 million people rely on each year,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Politico.
Title X provides funding for approximately 4,000 family planning clinics nationwide, which provide services to approximately 4 million low-income Americans each year.
“The latest funding announcement seeks to compromise that excellence by omitting any reference to nationally recognized clinical guidelines,” Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement. “These [clinical] guidelines outline how to provide patient-centered services related to contraception, pregnancy testing and counseling, achieving pregnancy, infertility, preconception health, and sexually transmitted diseases.”
The guidelines included in the HHS announcement emphasize “clearly communicat[ing with adolescents] the research informed benefits of delaying sex or returning to a sexually risk-free status,” and the benefits of “committed, safe, stable, healthy marriages.”
The Office of Population Affairs, the HHS division that oversees Title X funding, is headed by Valerie Huber. Prior to joining the Trump administration Huber was president and CEO of Ascend, a nonprofit originally named the National Abstinence Education Association. Huber also served as director of the Ohio Department of Health’s Abstinence Education Program.
“We’re still reviewing the application,” Jodi Tomlonovic, executive director of the Family Planning Council of Iowa, told Little Village. “We are concerned about the changes in language. We wonder about what their focus is, and what it is they want to accomplish.”
The council uses Title X funds “to provide family planning services in Iowa and we subcontract with six delegate agencies to provide family planning services to low-income people in local communities,” its website explains.
Tomlonovic said the council already works with some faith-based programs and programs that offer natural family planning, as well as long-established family planning organizations such as Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
“At the moment, we’re trying to work out exactly what the new application means when it says something is a ‘priority,’” Tomlonovic said. “How do we interpret that?”
The new language in the application isn’t the only important difference between how the Trump administration and previous administration have handled Title X funding.
Typically, the application process has begun in November and ended in April. Because the Trump administration has delayed the process for months, grants won’t be awarded until September. All current Title X funding grants will expire by the end of June.
The HHS has said clinics that rely on Title X can apply for temporary funding to remain open.
In 2017, Iowa changed the state funds family planning services to exclude clinics that provide abortion services, which led to the closure of some clinics. According to a report released in January by the Iowa Department of Human Services, the number of people receiving family planning services declined by almost 50 percent after the changes.