DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and 12 other Democratic governors on Thursday sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging him and the Trump administration not to make sweeping changes to a federal program that supports reproductive health services for people across the country.
Trump and Azar’s proposed changes to Title X, a family-planning program that has been in place for 47 years, would include banning family-planning clinics from sharing a building or financial resources with clinics that provide abortions. Their proposal would also include a “gag rule,” as some have called it, that would ban clinics that received Title X funding from discussing abortions unless a patient explicitly requests that information. Opponents say the proposed rule also would change the requirement that birth control methods be “medically approved.”
The proposal also contains a shift toward abstinence-only education and a possible expansion of a ban on sending U.S. money to foreign entities that provide abortions.
The Title X program is the only federal grant program dedicated to family planning services, and about 4 million people per year rely on the health centers it funds for those services and preventative health care.
Hundreds of thousands of Pap tests, breast exams and HIV and STI tests are done at clinics funded under Title X each year. Federal law prohibits taxpayer funds from going directly to abortion clinics, though some of the clinics—namely Planned Parenthood—that receive Title X funding for health care services separately perform abortions without the funding.
Planned Parenthood operates 13 percent of Title X-funded clinics and serves 41 percent of the program’s clients.
Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat who is the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, has been among the vocal opponents of the proposed changes to Title X. She has in the past week introduced a resolution condemning the proposal along with several other Democrats in the House of Representatives.
“Threatening federal funds for these facilities by restricting the exchange of the full range of health care information and service options between providers and patients forces these centers and their providers to make [an] awful choice,” DeGette said of the proposal last week.
On Thursday, she got support from Hickenlooper and the 12 other governors.
“This dangerous proposal would upend decades of bipartisan cooperation, taking away women’s healthcare through trusted medical providers like Planned Parenthood and eroding their access to comprehensive, medically accurate information,” the governors wrote in the letter to Azar. “We strongly urge you to reconsider this plan, which is nothing more than a domestic ‘gag rule’ that poses serious risks to women’s health.”
They called on Americans to “actively and aggressively oppose the actions and threatened legal action on behalf of their states.
“If this reckless policy is finalized as written, we will have no choice but to explore all possible avenues, including legal options, to block it from harming the women in our states. Our voices will be heard on this damaging proposal, and we are prepared to match our words with action,” the governors wrote.
They additionally said they would work with their respective attorneys general, legislatures and state health agencies to block the new proposed changes by the administration.
Pro-choice leaders in Colorado also voiced concerns Thursday with the recent appointment of Diane Foley to help lead the Office of Population Affairs, which administers the Title X funds. She is involved in several pro-life organizations in the state that have been repeatedly scrutinized for their offerings.
Forget about foxes, this is putting a tornado in charge of the henhouse," DeGette said in a statement Thursday regarding Foley's appointment. "A person with a record of running religiously-motivated centers that take advantage of young women with unwanted pregnancies, often feeding them false information, will bring this bias to the program that funds reproductive health care centers that treat the medically underserved nationwide."
DeGette called Foley's appointment "an outrage" and said it was "yet another sign of the Trump Administration's contempt for the reproductive rights of women – especially the underprivileged," she added.
But some Republicans in Colorado have pushed for the changes.
"A few days ago, the White House announced a new proposal that would prevent Title X Family Planning Grant money from going to abortion providers," the office of Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., wrote in a weekly newsletter. "This change would bring the program in line with the law and would respect the wishes of a majority of American—that their taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions."
The administration says it’s drawing a “bright line” between birth control and abortion, but opponents disagree.
“This is playing politics and putting people in a very precarious situation,” former HHS Secretary under Obama Kathleen Sebelius told The Associated Press.
Azar and HHS are expected to announce the new Title X funding awards, which amount to about $260 million, sometime this fall.