Montanans on both sides of the abortion issued weighed-in Friday on the Trump administration’s plan to bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions.
The Trump plan echoes a Reagan-era rule to ban abortion referrals by federally funded clinics. Details are sparse thus far, but it would also bar those same clinics from sharing space with abortion providers.
Planned Parenthood of Montana President and CEO, Martha Stahl, derides the proposal as a “gag rule” that is, “A fundamental attack on women’s access to health care, based in ideological feelings that are not reflected by the American public nor by the greater medical community.”
But abortion opponents argue that the current federal family planning program essentially cross-subsidizes abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventative care.
That Title X program serves about 4 million women annually. Planned Parenthood clinics also qualify for Title X grants, but those funds must be kept separate from money used to pay for abortions.
Jeff Laszloffy of the pro-life Montana Family Foundation welcomes the Trump administration’s move.
“All they’re saying is if you're going to do abortions, you do abortions. If you're gonna do family planning, then you do family planning. But, you cannot commingle funds with a wink and a nod," Laszloffy says.
According to Planned Parenthood CEO Martha Stahl, 20,000 Montanans get reproductive health care services through Title X programs. Approximately 20-percent of them are served by Planned Parenthood’s five statewide clinics.
“So, with the removal of Planned Parenthood from that program it would mean that we would no longer be able to offer the services on the same sliding fee scale that we currently use," she says.
Stahl says some of those clients may be eligible for Medicaid. Others would need to try to enroll in some other form of health care coverage, such as the Affordable Care Act. Some Montanans don’t qualify for those programs and those, she says, are the people who would be most adversely affected by this plan.
“Women and girls get the most robust care at non-abortion centers like community and rural health care centers," says The Montana Family Foundation’s Jeff Laszloffy, "and those actually outnumber abortion providers like Planned Parenthood 20 to 1 nationwide. There will be plenty of care out there and the level of care will be just as good as it is now.”
According to the Associated Press, the U.S Abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 per 1,000 in 2014.
The Health and Human Service Department sent its proposal to rewrite the rules to the White House, setting in motion a regulatory process that could take months.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that 20-percent of Montana's Title X reproductive health care service recipients are served by Montana's Planned Parenthood clinics, not 16-thousand. We regret the error.