AG files suit against Trump Administration’s Title X ‘gag rule’

Speaking at the press conference were National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) President and CEO Clare Coleman; Deborah Oyer, MD, Medical Director, Cedar River Clinics; and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Credit: Mercedes Sanchez

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a final version of a regulation that attacks the Title X national family planning program that provides low- to no-cost family planning and sexual health care services and education to more than 90,000 women and men across Washington and four million people across the country. The Trump Administration’s “gag rule” permits Title X providers to withhold information from patients about their healthcare options, bars them from referring patients for abortion care, and requires Title X clinics to physically separate abortion care and referrals from their services funded by Title X.

According to a news release issued by the office of State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the “gag rule” will force out of the program professionals who provide nearly 90 percent of Title X family planning services to Washington patients, keeping thousands of vulnerable Washingtonians from reasonably accessing contraception, cancer and STI screening and other family planning care.

The AG’s office goes on to say that in Washington, 91,284 patients received care through Title X in 2017. More than half of these patients were at or below the federal poverty line. The Washington Department of Health estimates that services provided to these patients prevented more than 18,000 unintended pregnancies and more than 6,000 abortions, resulting in savings for the state of more than $113 million.

At a Feb. 24 press conference, Cedar River Clinics, a Washington-based Title X provider with clinic locations in Seattle, Renton, and Tacoma, joined with Ferguson to announce a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its unlawful attempt to destroy the nation’s nearly 50-year-old Title X Family Planning program. Cedar River Clinics is filing a joint lawsuit with National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), separate from Ferguson’s lawsuit.

At the press conference were Ferguson; Cedar River Clinics Medical Director Deborah Oyer, MD; Washington State Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands Erin Berry; ACLU Washington Legal Director Emily Chiang; and Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.

“Patients should be able to make well-informed decisions based on complete, unbiased information about their health care options,” Ferguson said. “Those decisions must stay between patients and their medical providers – not the federal government.”

The following is Oyer’s press conference statement:

“For 40 years, Cedar River Clinics has provided high quality, patient-centered, reproductive health care to people in Washington state and beyond. We have always fought to ensure and expand access to this care and the Trump administration’s move to blatantly gut the Title X program shows us that the fight must go on.

“The new policy is a direct assault on access to essential health care and demonstrates a clear and dangerous disregard for the role that birth control, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and other related preventive services play in public health and individual lives.

“As a family planning provider for 30 years, I have been privileged to have patients trust me with the intimate details of their lives and their care. In return, I treat them with respect, assure their privacy, and give them complete and honest information about their health care. The policy change to Title X requires me to withhold important information from my patients.

“The new rules mandate discrimination. Patients with health insurance will continue to get complete information from their providers. However, substantial information will be withheld from low-income patients receiving care in Title X clinics. Even upon a patient’s request, medical professionals will be prohibited from providing certain information and support.

“For example, the rule requires that requests for abortion referrals from patients be answered only with a list of primary care providers, the majority of whom must not provide abortions. We are being directed to actively mislead our patients.

“With 60 percent of abortions performed by independent clinics like Cedar River, 35 percent provided by Planned Parenthood, and only 1 percent in physicians’ offices, it’s clear this is an attack on abortion information and access.

“We believe our patients, no matter their demographics, must be able to get complete information from their providers when making health care decisions. They need to be able to access full spectrum reproductive health care that includes lifesaving access to preventive care and contraception, as well as referral for abortion when needed.

“We thank Attorney General Ferguson and others prepared to take a stand to protect the mission and integrity of the Title X Family Planning program. Cedar River Clinics is committed to defending reproductive rights and health care. We cannot stand by while this administration plays politics with people’s lives. We intend to file a joint lawsuit with the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association against the Trump Administration. We will continue to fight for patients everywhere because we have a vision of the world where we are all free to make our own decisions regarding our bodies and reproduction…free to live healthy, self-determined lives with dignity.”

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