The Federal government June 1 published a proposed rule that would dramatically change the Title X federal government Family Planning Program set in place in 1973 to assist low-income women across the United States get the full range of reproductive health care, including access to abortion. But it will be months, or even years, before the proposed rule becomes official, according to a Maine Family Planning official.

In an interview June 3, Kate Brogan, Vice President for Public Affairs at Maine Family Planning, said the Trump Administration is trying “to change the focus” of the Title X program to make it much harder for women to access abortion care and much harder for family planning providers to give women all the information they need about their options regarding reproductive health care. Under the current rule health care providers getting Title X funding “are required to provide the full range of information, non-directive options counselling that gives women all of their options,” Brogan said.

The new proposed rule eliminates the requirement that the client be given the most up-to-date information about what contraceptive methods are available to them. That’s why it’s being called “The Gag Rule,” she said, because under it not only would federally funded family planning providers across the country not be able to provide abortions, they also would not be able to tell women where they can get an abortion.

This, she said, exploits women who are in difficult situations. The bulk of women who come to Maine Family Planning health centers are eligible for free or reduced-price services based on their income, she said. “Which means they are struggling in our economy and they are uninsured and that’s the reason they come to us. So if those are the women that aren’t going to be able to access the full scope of the information that is available about their options, and also there will be fewer abortion providers because the intent of this is to close down abortion providers, it gets us closer to the time where women of means are going to continue to have all of the access that they need but poor women are going to be out of luck and are going to be forced to continue pregnancies that they don’t want, and can’t afford.”

The proposed rule, she added, also approves using federal family planning funds for organizations that promote abstinence or natural family planning, and it also allows federal family planning funds to go to Crisis Pregnancy Centers. These centers, Brogan said, do not offer accurate information to women about their options, but instead “pressure and coerce women who are pregnant to continue their pregnancy and place their baby for adoption.” Some of those centers, she said, “have arrangements with adoption agencies that for every woman they bring in they get a cut of the very expensive adoption fee.”

Brogan explained that currently two of the three abortion providers available in Maine, Maine Family Planning and Planned Parenthood, provide both family planning services and also, one day a week, provide abortion services. “No federal funds or state funds go to fund those abortion services but there is co-location. The new rule would prohibit co-location. We wouldn’t be able to be in same building, or share a parking lot, or a name or advertising or a phone number. So, the intent of this rule is to force abortion providers to stop providing abortions and make abortion care much less accessible,” she said.

But Brogan made clear that many steps must be taken before the new rule goes into effect. The federal Health and Human Services Department that issued the proposed rule has given the public 60 days to comment on it. Brogan doubts that the comment period will make much of a difference since the officials overseeing the program are so committed to their point of view. After HHS announces the final rule, health care providers across the country will then have 60 days to bring their programs into compliance with it, she said. Brogan said she fully expects law suits against the rule, which will further delay its implementation.

Brogan assured Maine women that her organization and others like hers will do all they can to fight the proposed rule. And she made clear that for now nothing has changed for women needing assistance from Maine Family Planning. “Nothing has changed. That’s the bottom line. Our doors are open and we are still providing the full range of medically accurate information and all of our services continue to be available until this is resolved — and that will be many months or even years, and until we hear otherwise we are not changing what we do.”

If you want to keep informed about this, or comment on the proposed rule, you can go to mainefamilyplanning.org and sign up for their mailing list.

Wendy Ross is a member of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights.

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