The Trump administration is trying to cut off access to affordable birth control, so Planned Parenthood is taking Trump to court — again. Reproductive rights organizations sued Wednesday in an effort to stop changes to a federal family planning program that promote abstinence-only sexual health programs over contraception. The move comes two days after multiple news outlets reported that Trump is also considering a "domestic gag rule" that would ban funding for groups that provide abortion services.
Two separate lawsuits were filed against the Department of Health and Human Services: one by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), and another from three Planned Parenthood affiliates in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Utah. Both suits seek to stop new Title X funding guidance issued earlier this year from going into effect and force the administration to refocus the family planning program on contraception.
"These changes would mean using government funds to promote no-sex outside-of-marriage ideology," Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a Wednesday press briefing. "Trading in FDA-approved contraceptive methods for shame and abstinence-based programs that we know don’t work is wrong, it's bad for public health, and it’s outside the law."
Harlow added that The Trump administration can’t legally change the fundamental intentions of a program started by Congress nearly 50 years ago. "We’ll see them in court," she said.
The organizations suing are concerned about the fact that the new Title X funding guidelines don’t mention contraception at all. The document does mention "fertility awareness,” which refers to ways to track your ovulation to prevent pregnancy.
By focusing on fertility awareness and abstinence, the funding guidance paves the way for the administration to favor organizations that prioritize those methods over contraception to receive funding. That means health care providers like Planned Parenthood could lose their Title X funds, along with the ability to serve patients who rely on Title X coverage. Because Title X primarily benefits low-income people and those without insurance, chipping away at Title X's coverage of birth control would hinder those Americans' access to affordable contraception and basic health care.
Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in Wednesday’s press briefing that many patients in her state relying on Title X coverage would be left without a doctor if they can no longer go to Planned Parenthood. In Wisconsin, 80 percent of Title X patients in the state go to Planned Parenthood, according to Atkinson. In addition, she says there’s already a shortage of providers in more than 70 percent of the counties she serves.
Title X funding doesn't just affect birth control, either. It also covers STI testing, well-woman exams, and screenings for cervical and breast cancer. Christy Miceli, a Title X patient in Wisconsin, found out she had cancerous cells on her cervix when she was 24 following an exam at Planned Parenthood. She then underwent multiple procedures to remove the cells and continued going to Planned Parenthood for checkups covered by Title X.
"Because of Planned Parenthood and Title X, I am alive," she said at Wednesday's press briefing.
Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and NFPRHA are asking the federal courts to bar the new Title X funding guidelines from going into effect to ensure patients like Miceli aren't left without a doctor or without birth control.
"The Trump-Pence administration is trying to push people towards abstinence or pressure them into marriage instead of helping them get the quality health care they need," said Dr. Gillian Dean, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, in Wednesday's briefing. "This is unlawful and would have devastating consequences for patients, so Planned Parenthood is going to court to stop them."