AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Trump administration has released a new rule that makes sweeping changes to the federal Title X program which pays for contraception and other reproductive health services for millions of low-income Americans. Under the rule, organizations that provide or refer patients for abortions will be ineligible to receive federal funds through the program. This represents a big victory for abortion rights opponents who've been lobbying the Trump administration for these changes.
NPR's Sarah McCammon covers abortion and joins me now. And Sarah, let's start with the Title X program itself. What does it do, and how is it changing?
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: So it's a close to $300 million federal program, and it provides grants to health clinics, nonprofit groups and organizations like Planned Parenthood to cover reproductive health care for about 4 million low-income people. That means things like birth control, STD screenings, preventive health exams. And this new rule which just posted to the Health and Human Services' Office of Population Affairs website is going to make several changes, and one of the biggest is who can receive these funds.
So right now it is illegal in most cases for federal funding to pay for abortion, but this takes that a step further. Under the rule, any organization that offers abortions or refers patients seeking abortions to another provider for care cannot receive Title X funds. So a group like Planned Parenthood couldn't get those funds to cover services like contraception for Title X patients.
CORNISH: This is something abortion rights opponents have been pushing for for some time. How are they responding now?
MCCAMMON: Right. It's part of a much larger and longer-term effort by anti-abortion rights groups to cut funding to groups like Planned Parenthood. I spoke a little while ago with Tom McClusky. He's with the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
TOM MCCLUSKY: The most important thing, I think, is that it separates that abortion is neither health care, nor is it any part of family planning. If you want to do abortions as a private organization, then you're allowed to do that in the United States. However, you should not be doing it being subsidized by taxpayer funds.
MCCAMMON: So anti-abortion rights groups are very pleased with this rule. They see President Trump as delivering here and in other cases on promises he made to social conservatives during his campaign and beyond.
CORNISH: And abortion rights supporters - what are they saying now?
MCCAMMON: Well, they and a lot of medical groups, I should say, too, oppose this rule. They've called it a gag rule and say it would prevent doctors from speaking freely with their Title X-funded patients. Dr. Leana Wen is the president of Planned Parenthood. She says it's unethical for providers to censor information about abortion.
LEANA WEN: What President Trump is doing is putting a gag on doctors like me to prevent us from providing our patients with full and accurate medical information.
MCCAMMON: And Audie, I should say Planned Parenthood serves about 40 percent of the nation's Title X patients, so this could be both a big financial hit for them and other groups that receive these funds and could really affect the network of providers, advocates tell me. I spoke recently with a leader of an organization that administers these grants in California, and she said she's worried there will be fewer places where women can get contraceptive care through Title X, which could mean more unplanned pregnancy, she says.
CORNISH: What happens going forward? Is this the final say on this policy change?
MCCAMMON: Not necessarily. This final rule has been posted online, and it's being submitted to the Federal Register, which will make it official. Then it would take effect in 60 days. But abortion rights advocates have known this was coming. They've been preparing for it. There's little doubt there will be legal challenges. So it's not clear how soon or if groups like Planned Parenthood might feel any effect from this substantial overhaul of the federal family planning program.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thank you.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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