A new federal rule barring states from withholding federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood could prove to be a short-term victory for the organization.
Congressional Republicans have already put the rule on their hit list and it may not survive the first 100 days of a Donald Trump administration.
The rule, posted Wednesday on the website of the Federal Register, is slated to take effect Jan. 18, two days before Inauguration Day.
The rule makes clear that states can’t block Title X family planning funding “for reasons other than its ability to provide Title X services.” Those reasons include Planned Parenthood’s provision of abortions.
Federal law already prohibits Planned Parenthood from using Title X funds for abortions. The money is used to fund family planning services such as birth control, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, prenatal care and cancer screenings for low-income people.
Since 2014, when a federal appeals court upheld it, Kansas law has barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X funds. The law provides that only full-service medical facilities are eligible for the money. Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, says the law has cost the organization about $370,000 annually.
Kansas’ cutoff of the funds also has led to the closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Hays and an unaffiliated clinic in Dodge City. And while the state promised to use the funds at other medical facilities that offer family planning services, it has instead lost the money, according to the Associated Press.
“Actually now, the state of Kansas just doesn’t get that money,” Higgins says.
State officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how they intend to comply with the new Title X rule once it takes effect.
Whether Planned Parenthood will be able to take immediate advantage of the rule is open to question. Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates clinics in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, says the deadline for applying for Title X funds for the fiscal year that runs from April 1 through March 31 was Oct. 31.
“So we have to do our own research now that this (rule) has been passed,” she says, “which is an incredible victory for access to sexual and reproductive health care, let me just say that. It’s a question of how we could make this a reality for our patients and the other three states in which we operate.”
But even if Planned Parenthood were able to skirt the October deadline, McQuade acknowledges the rule may not be on the books for long.
“That’s the weak point, as you’ve seen on so many other issues around these executive decisions,” she says. “We feel strongly that we can continue to lobby in Washington for the importance of these funds. But we are concerned that the Trump administration does not champion women’s reproductive health and certainly does not champion Planned Parenthood at this point, and that they would be at risk once the new administration comes in.”
Trump has given mixed signals about Planned Parenthood, but Vice President-elect Mike Pence led the charge to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funds when he was a congressman.
Kansas has also tried to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid reimbursements, its other source of federal funds. Earlier this year, the state notified Planned Parenthood that it would cut off its participation in the program, citing its supposed refusal to comply with an inspection and highly edited videos released in July 2015 by an anti-abortion group purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue for profit. A federal court blocked the state’s effort and Kansas has appealed.
Unlike Kansas, Title X funds continue to flow to Planned Parenthood in Missouri because the Missouri Family Health Council, not the state, is the recipient of the funds.
McQuade says Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which also operates clinics in Kansas City, Gladstone, Independence and Columbia, receives about $700,000 annually in Title X funds, equal to less than 5 percent of its budget.
Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, another Planned Parenthood affiliate operating in Missouri, receives about $450,000 a year in Title X money, according to Mary Kogut, its president and CEO.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.