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Trump steps up attack on Planned Parenthood
President Trump is intensifying his attack on federal funding for Planned Parenthood with the introduction of new rules on Friday that are widely seen as a way of gutting federal funding to the group.
The women's health organization could lose millions of dollars in funding if the sweeping changes to a federal family planning program are upheld in court.
Under the changes, clinics aren't eligible for Title X Family Planning funds unless they are physically and financially separate from abortion providers.
That means clinics couldn't share space or staff with abortion facilities. Clinics would also be banned from referring women for abortions or counseling them on abortion as an option to end pregnancy.
This could disqualify many of Planned Parenthood's 600 centers across the country, which receives about a quarter of Title X funds annually to provide reproductive health and preventive services to low-income women.
"Planned Parenthood cannot participate in a program that would force our health care providers to compromise our ethics," President Leana Wen said Friday, when asked by The Hill if Planned Parenthood would continue applying for the funding.
While federal funds can't be used for abortions under law, the administration argues that any money that goes to clinics providing abortions indirectly supports the procedure.
Planned Parenthood vowed to fight against the changes, but similar rules were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1991.
"We have fought many times before against countless attacks, and we will fight back again," Wen said.
Trump has won plaudits from social conservatives for his efforts on abortion. Much of his work has been in the court system, where Trump has appointed dozens of conservative judges and two Supreme Court justices.
The appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, in particular, have the potential to shift the balance of the court against abortion rights.
Republicans in Congress have repeatedly sought to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood over the past decade, but with little success when former President Obama was in the White House. The closely held GOP majority in the Senate - and now a Democratic majority in the House - has cut off efforts to do so in Congress under Trump.
But the change in regulations could have a major impact on Planned Parenthood.
Abortion rights groups and medical associations argue that the funding rule will hurt access to care for low-income women, particularly those of color. Some clinics might have to shut down, reduce services or turn away patients if they don't get the money.
"Millions of women depend on the Title X program for access to much-needed health care including cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment, and other exams," said American Medical Association President Barbara McAneny. "This is the wrong prescription and threatens to compound a health equity deficit in this nation."
The administration rejected claims that the rule would "exacerbate health inequalities or harm patient care."
"The Department anticipates that the rule, overall, will contribute to more clients being served and gaps in services being closed," the administration said.
The rule doesn't cut funding for the program, but could redirect it toward more faith-based organizations that don't support abortion.
Such organizations didn't feel comfortable participating in the program in previous years because of its abortion referral and counseling requirements.
"[The change] protects Title X health care providers so that they are not required to choose between participating in the program and violating their own consciences by providing abortion counseling and referral," the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
The money could also be redirected to community health centers or other general health clinics, which opponents say don't offer comprehensive services like Planned Parenthood.
The news was cheered by anti-abortion groups that have long opposed federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
"The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of national anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List.
"The Protect Life Rule does not cut family planning funding by a single dime, and instead directs tax dollars to entities that provide health care to women but do not perform abortions."
The Susan B. Anthony List and other anti-abortion groups have grown increasingly frustrated by Congress's failure to defund Planned Parenthood, especially since Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years under Trump.
Trump himself has frequently called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and changes to the program announced Friday are likely the closest he will get under a divided Congress.