Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed two separate lawsuits against the Trump administration Wednesday, accusing the Department of Health and Human Services of attempting to shift family planning funding toward anti-abortion, pro-abstinence organizations.
The lawsuits cite the fact that new funding criteria for Title X family planning grants released by the Trump administration in February cut requirements for grant-recipients to offer “a full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods,” which were emphasized in previous Title X funding announcements, and instead highlights the importance of teaching “natural family planning” methods.
They argue that the new grant structure “shoehorns priorities and non-family planning activities into Title X grantmaking that are inconsistent with Title X’s governing law and purpose,” according to a statement from the ACLU.
Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit represents three of their state affiliates, and the ACLU’s suit was filed on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, an organization that represents health care providers and administrators around the country. Both were filed in US District Court in Washington, DC.
In addition to focusing on “natural family planning,” the new HHS-issued guidelines stress “cooperation with community based and faith-based organizations” and require providers receiving funding to emphasize abstinence education. Specifically, they require organizations to promote “activities for adolescents that do not normalize sexual risk behaviors, but instead clearly communicate the research informed benefits of delaying sex or returning to a sexually risk-free status.”
The lawsuits argue that this emphasis is “contrary to the Title X statute and inconsistent with numerous Title X regulations” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal statute that established standards for formal rulemaking by government agencies. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment, and HHS told BuzzFeed News in an email that they do not “comment on pending litigation.”
“Those unexplained and unjustified changes contravene the Title X program as Congress intended it, violate the government’s own existing regulations, and threaten devastating, irreparable harms to the very patients Title X was meant to help,” Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit reads.
While announcing the new guidelines in February, Valerie Huber — the acting secretary for population affairs at HHS who makes the final decision on who receives the family planning grants — told press that Planned Parenthood was welcome to reapply for the Title X grants under the new guidelines. The goal of the changes, she said, was to expand funding opportunities to new types of organizations and to fill in geographic gaps in affordable family planning care.
Despite this, Planned Parenthood argues that the new guidelines clearly favor anti-abortion and pro-abstinence organizations over their affiliates.
“This could bar Planned Parenthood health centers from seeing Title X patients, even though we serve 41 percent of Title X patients nationwide, and even if that means leaving patients with nowhere else to turn,” Helene Krasnoff, senior director of litigation and law for Planned Parenthood, told BuzzFeed News in a statement Wednesday.
The litigation began the day after more than 200 congressional Republicans and 86 anti-abortion advocacy and lobbying groups sent letters to HHS asking the Trump administration to issue additional Title X regulations that would likely cut family planning funding from Planned Parenthood and any other organizations that discuss or provide abortions. (Federal rules already prevent Title X funding from going toward abortion itself; instead, it goes toward other services like contraception and cervical cancer screenings.)
Mallory Quigley, the vice president of communications for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, which was the author of one of Tuesday’s letters, called the lawsuits “ridiculous” in an email to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday. “We are hopeful the Trump administration will issue new Title X regulations … that will disentangle abortion centers from the Title X network and get taxpayers out of the abortion business.”
The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have taken aim at Title X funding for organizations that provide abortion, including Planned Parenthood, since President Trump took office. Just weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote — his first — to allow states to strip Title X funding from organizations that provide abortion — including Planned Parenthood — repealing an Obama-era rule that protected the funding.