ACLU, Planned Parenthood sue over Title X funding change
The ACLU sued the Trump administration Wednesday on behalf of a major family planning association over changes to the Title X grant program's criteria that could block funding for clinics offering abortions .
The American Civil Liberties Union and National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association have asked a federal district court in Washington to order the Trump administration to rewrite the requirements and prevent them from using the new criteria, which focus on abstinence and education, to award the next round of Title X grants in May.
"The mission [of Title X] is under attack," said Clare Coleman, president of the plaintiff National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. "The Trump administration wants to change the rules."
The association alleged that the new funding criteria, laid out by HHS' Office of Population Affairs in February, defied Congress' intent for the program to provide family planning services. The funding announcement didn't mention contraception and focused on expanding eligibility to applicants who offer services like "natural family planning methods" or "fertility awareness."
In a "question-and-answer" section about this year's funding announcement on the HHS website, the Office of Population Affairs does note that natural family planning or fertility awareness-based methods cannot be the only family planning services grant applicants offer.
"Title X has been continuously funded because it has been successful in improving public health and decreasing costs for preventive care," ACLU attorney Ruth Harlow said on the media call announcing the lawsuit. "The Trump administration wants to change all that."
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed a separate, companion lawsuit in the same court.
The lawsuits come as the Trump administration prepares to ban clinics that offer abortions from Title X funding. Coleman noted that Title X has always required grantee clinics to offer patients whatever referrals they want provided they are "non-directive and medically accurate." They can include referrals to abortion providers or adoption agencies.
The administration's changes to Title X have been rolling out over the past several months. Officials shrank the grants' three-year funding cycles to just one year so the entire network of current grantees would need to apply to keep their funding in 2018 and beyond.
The Office of Population Affairs also delayed the funding announcement for Title X applicants until late February, three months after it was expected.
The Trump administration has signaled it will keep the funding at current levels, as the White House fiscal 2019 budget proposal maintained the funding at $286 billion.
An HHS spokesperson said the department could not comment on pending litigation.
This story has been updated to include a comment from HHS and additional information on the funding application.
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