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 TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 EstesWorst-case scenario for House GOP is 70-seat wipeout Election Countdown: Takeaways from too-close-to-call Ohio special election | Trump endorsements cement power but come with risks | GOP leader's race now rated as 'toss-up' | Record numbers of women nominated | Latino candidates get prominent role in 2020 Rep. Ron Estes defeats opponent also named Ron Estes in GOP primary MORE (Kan.), Vicky HartzlerVicky Jo HartzlerRecord numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Lawmakers target Chinese security companies over spy fears MORE (Mo.) and Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithFor Poland, a time for justice On The Money: Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs | Senate confirms new IRS chief | Median household income rose for third straight year in 2017 | Jamie Dimon's brief battle with Trump CORRECTED: GOP lawmaker taken out of context in remarks on gay adoption 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."