Two exit HHS family planning office amid changes

Two exit HHS family planning office amid changes
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Two people have left the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) following a tumultuous rollout of a federal family planning program.

Cathy Deeds and Mary Vigil, who were both senior advisers at the Office of Population Affairs (OPA), are no longer working with HHS, a spokesperson confirmed Thursday. 

Vigil had served as a consultant to HHS and left the agency earlier this year.

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OPA runs the Title X grant program, the only federal program that focuses solely on funding family planning services, like birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, for low-income women and men. 

Deeds and Vigil came from conservative, anti-abortion rights backgrounds and worked under the OPA's former deputy assistant secretary Teresa Manning, a former anti-abortion rights lobbyist who left the OPA in January. 

It's not clear if Deeds and Virgil left their roles or were fired. An HHS spokesperson said they have nothing further to add "at this time." 

Changes to the Title X program were announced through a funding announcement in late February, months after grantees expected information. 

The slow-moving process put grantees on edge because many had grants expiring March 31. The OPA initially estimated the funding announcement would be released in November. 

Manning left in the middle of that process, and Valerie Huber, the former head of an abstinence education advocacy group, took over as the acting assistant deputy in the interim. 

The new rollout places an emphasis on abstinence education and downplays the role of contraception. 

Advocates say the changes also appear to be geared toward funding faith-based groups that promote abstinence-only education and oppose abortion rights. 

Title X has drawn scorn from anti-abortion rights groups over the years because Planned Parenthood receives millions of dollars in funding from the program, serving 41 percent of Title X patients. While there is a prohibition on using federal funding for abortions, anti-abortion rights advocates argue the funding can still indirectly support the procedure.

– CORRECTION: This story was updated May 2 at 4:40 p.m. to reflect that Vigil served as an HHS consultant, not HHS employee