Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Sues Trump Administration Over Family Planning Funding

May 9, 2018

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is suing the Trump administration over rules for Title X funding. The organization's branches in Utah and Ohio have joined the lawsuit. Title X gives grants to clinics to provide reproductive care for uninsured and under-insured people. Planned Parenthood says the Trump administration's new rules are illegal and will favor clinics that focus on abstinence education.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has received about federal funds through Title X since the grant program’s inception in 1970, and representatives say it's received about $3.5 million annually over the past 10 years.

The money helps non-profits and other groups provide services like contraception counseling, STD and cancer screenings, and other reproductive health needs.

One of the people the program has benefited is Christy Miceli. She is a 39-year-old small business owner from Hartford. She says she started going to Planned Parenthood for care in her 20s, when she didn't have insurance. A routine pap test revealed cancerous cells on her cervix. “Without that yearly pap test, and someone saying ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem,’ I wouldn’t have known until I started getting sick, and then it probably would have been too late.”

Miceli says that reproductive health is not a luxury. “It is life-saving care that every person should be able to access, no matter how much money they make.”

Every year, the government issues new guidelines and priorities as to how to request Title X funds. The US Department of Health and Human Services issued its version in February. Reproductive health groups are suing over this year’s rules, which they say have the wrong funding priorities.

Nicole Safar, director of Government Relations at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, says, “The rules under the Trump/Pence administration have shifted the focus completely from contraceptive care and birth control to counseling patients about abstinence-only until marriage as the best way to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy."

She says the guidelines also favor the rhythm or fertility awareness methods instead of comprehensive contraceptive counseling.

Safar says the change will steer funding away from places like Planned Parenthood clinics. And she argues the Trump administration rules fly in the face of Title X's intent -- to give patients access to a full range of contraceptive and family planning options. "So that’s our main claim, that it’s completely illegal for them to be changing the intent of the statute, without changing the statute.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services won't comment on the pending litigation. But the department’s website indicates that it places importance on funding clinics and organizations that emphasize abstinence. The department says abstinence can help those who practice it avoid "sexual risk or returning to a sexually risk-free status.”

The website says social science research supports the approach. The Department of Health and Human Services does not say whether it means to reduce funding for organizations that provide abortion services. Planned Parenthood is one of those organizations, although it's restricted from using Title X grants to pay for those services.

But Planned Parenthood’s status as an abortion provider is factoring into the Title X funding debate. Chelsea Duffy, legislative and PAC director for Wisconsin Right to Life, says Title X accounts for about 10.4% of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin’s budget. "So, at the end of the day, [Title X funding to Planned Parenthood] is still helping the bottom line of an abortion provider, and that’s where we take issue, and that’s why we’re encouraged to these changes in the Title X program.”

Duffy says Wisconsin Right to Life and its parent organization, National Right to Life, want the Title X changes to go further. She says the groups want to ensure that Title X funding doesn’t go to reproductive health organizations that provide abortion referrals, or those that are co-located with abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against the Trump administration is pending review by a judge.

A similar lawsuit has been filed by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and the ACLU.