House Republicans urge HHS to add abortion restrictions to family planning program

House Republicans urge HHS to add abortion restrictions to family planning program
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are pushing President TrumpDonald John TrumpReporters defend CNN's Acosta after White House says he 'disrespected' Trump with question Security costs of Trump visit to Scotland sparks outrage among Scottish citizens Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' MORE's health department to add abortion restrictions to the federal family planning grant program.

The Title X Family Planning Program funds organizations providing birth control, cancer screenings and other services to low-income women and men across the country, but conservatives have long argued the program indirectly supports abortion.

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Members of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus with 154 members, are urging the Department of Health and Human Services to ban organizations receiving Title X family planning money from referring patients for abortions. 

The members are also asking that Title X organizations be physically and financially separated from facilities that provide abortions. 

"The Title X Family Planning Program is in dire need of review and updated regulations that ensure program integrity with respect to elective abortion," members of the RSC wrote in a draft letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, obtained by The Hill.

The letter is being circulated for signatures among House Republicans by Reps. Ron EstesRonald (Ron) Gene EstesGOP lawmaker faces primary challenger with the same name Five takeaways from Tuesday’s primary fights Overnight Health Care: Opioid distributors summoned before Congress | Judge sets trial date in massive opioid lawsuit | Senators press DOJ to stop blocking medical marijuana MORE (Kan.), Vicky HartzlerVicky Jo HartzlerFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Lawmakers target Chinese security companies over spy fears Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE (Mo.) and Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithWe should allow all taxpayers to deduct charitable contributions AEI: GOP tax law will reduce charitable giving by .2 billion The progressive blue wave is crashing and burning in 2018 MORE (N.J.)

Under current law, Title X funding recipients are required to offer counseling to women in the case of a positive pregnancy test on their options, which include adoption and abortion.

The members argue that the requirement deters organizations opposed to abortion from applying for the funds. 

The members also argue that allowing Title X organizations to be co-located with abortion providers "raises concerns about program integrity." 

"Co-located centers may be vulnerable to misuse of funds in support of abortion activities and send a message that abortion is considered a method of family planning in federally funded family planning programs," the members write. 

"To ensure that the federally funded family planning services offered by Title X recipients are unquestionably separate and distinct from abortion, Title X service sites should be physically, as well as financially, separate from facilities that provide abortion." 

Planned Parenthood serves about 40 percent of Title X patients.

Republicans have long targeted the organization's participation in the program, despite the funds being banned from going toward abortions.

The restrictions the RSC is asking for are similar to ones issued by the Reagan administration, which were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1991.

The regulations never went into effect because former President Clinton took office and rolled them back.

In a funding announcement for Title X issued in February, the Trump administration made changes that some argue would make it harder for Planned Parenthood and abortion providers to participate in the program and easier for faith-based organizations opposed to abortion.

HHS officials indicated further changes could be coming down the pike, and anti-abortion groups outside Congress have also been pushing for the Reagan regulations to make a comeback.

Those changes could come in the form of a regulation issued by HHS.

Planned Parenthood argued the changes Republicans are asking for are specifically designed to exclude it from the program.

"It would be devastating for women in the Title X Family Planning Program," said Emily Stewart, vice president of public policy for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"That regulation would be designed to prevent women from coming to Planned Parenthood for birth control and cancer screenings, and other providers like Planned Parenthood ... Automatically, you would have 4 in 10 people in the program who would right away lose access to their health care provider."