Planned Parenthood is turning down tens of millions of dollars in federal Title X dollars after implementation of a new Trump administration rule that prevents organizations that accept the funds from making abortion referrals.
Morning Shift checks in with the head of Planned Parenthood of Illinois about the decision, its potential impact on Planned Parenthood’s patients in the state, and the organization’s legal strategy going forward.
What was your reaction when you first heard about the proposed rule when it was announced in February?
Jennifer Welch: The first concern that I have as the CEO of Planned Parenthood Illinois is for our patients. Last year, our organization served more than 70,000 patients at our 17 health centers around the state. So of course I’m worried about those folks.
These are the people who can’t otherwise afford services … and they might not even know they’re Title X recipients.
Jenn White: What specifically have you been doing since this proposed rule was announced?
Welch: Planned Parenthoods all across the country — ours being one of the direct grantees that has the most to lose — we’ve been fighting in every possible way. There’s still litigation pending in courts mostly on the west coast and Planned Parenthood is a partner in those lawsuits with organizations like the American Medical Association and attorneys general from states all over the country.
So we’ve been fighting in the courts and, of course, we’ve been encouraging Congress to act because they have the ability to fix this. The House already has taken steps to fully and appropriately fund Title X without these newer restrictions and the Senate needs to do the same.
On what the new rule means for patients in Illinois
Welch: Here in Illinois, it means $3.5 million of funding lost. That’s the grant our organization had for this year. As I mentioned, we served about 70,00 patients. So what you have is tens or thousands of patients whose care is at risk because of this regulation.
It is the case that about 10% of our budget was federal (Title) X funding. So imagine the risk to all of those patients across the state. It’s especially important to people in Central Illinois, where Planned Parenthood is the only Title X provider for six counties in Central Illinois. Those patients may have the most difficult time finding care, now that we are being bullied by the federal government to reject this funding.
White: Can you explain this scope of care women were able to access with this funding?
Welch: The biggest provision is about birth control. It’s the nation’s Family Planning grant. It’s been around for decades and Planned Parenthood has been participating for decades in this care. So definitely family planning, all forms of birth control as well as STI testing and treatment.
White: In the absence of your organization providing services through Title X funding, who steps into the gap that’s left there?
Welch: I want to be clear that Planned Parenthood stores are still open, here in Illinois and all over the country. In Illinois, we are fortunate to have the generous support of donors who are subsidizing this care for at least a year. So I can promise our patients that they can still get the care. I’m not certain what happens after that.
On Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ strategy moving forward
Welch: We are rejecting these funds because we refuse to let our medical professionals to be gagged by these regulations … I should also add that all of the Title X providers in the state of Illinois, including those funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the other direct grantee here in the state of Illinois, they are all refusing this funding.
So patients here in Illinois will still get the care and the referrals to a full range of reproductive health. But I can imagine patients in other states who will not have information that they’re seeking made available to them.
White: Are you having conversations with the Pritzker administration about what this rule means here in Illinois?
Welch: We are very fortunate to partner with the Pritzker administration and we are talking with them about how to best serve all of the patients in Illinois.
White: And what options are open to you at the state level?
Welch: Well, the state has said that it will cover the difference, the loss of funding, for its direct grantees — or the sub grantees that it has through the Department of Public Health. Planned Parenthood of Illinois is a direct grantee, so the state is not making up the difference for us in this funding.
White: So what does the legal strategy look like going forward?
Welch: Our leads on that are our attorneys general and the medical professionals. They’re really saying it’s against medical ethics, it’s against their ability to provide care.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity by Stephanie Kim. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUEST: Jennifer Welch, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois
LEARN MORE: Planned Parenthood Withdraws From Title X Funding (New York Times 8/19/19)
Planned Parenthood Out Of Title X Over Trump Rule (NPR 8/19/19)
Planned Parenthood At Risk In Standoff Over Trump Abortion ‘Gag Rule’ (Politico 8/16/19)