Guided by the hand of the Trump Administration, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released new guidelines Friday that govern which family planning clinics will receive Title X federal funding. The guidelines include a number of new stipulations that favor abstinence-only education and an emphasis on the rhythm method in place of more effective methods of birth control, a move that appears designed to wrest funds from organizations like Planned Parenthood.
The Title X program has long provided essential federal funding for family planning providers serving primarily the poor, young, and uninsured. The program has never funded abortion. In a news conference on Friday, HHS Acting Deputy Secretary for Population Affairs Valerie Huber announced that the new guidelines feature several important changes that will extend funding to providers who were previously ineligible.
The guidelines heavily emphasize that grant funding will be made available to planning services offering what they’re calling “natural family planning methods,” or “fertility awareness methods,” which, according to the HHS’ own website, can lead to unintended pregnancy in up to 25 percent of couples who practice such methods.
Incredibly, birth control is not mentioned in the new requirements, a glaring omission, considering that for most people, the phrase is virtually synonymous with family planning.
As Jezebel points out, the new rules also encourage applications from providers offering “a holistic vision of health and those historically underrepresented in the Title X program.”
The guidelines also encourage providers specializing in “a single method of family planning” to apply — a move that seems designed to make Title X funding available to religious providers specifically focused on abstinence and “fertility awareness methods.” In fact, the guidelines explicitly encourage “cooperation with community-based and faith-based organizations,” the very organizations that will be newly eligible for funding under these new rules.
The new HHS guidelines also encourage providers focused on abstinence-only education programs to apply for funding. It’s not called abstinence anymore, though, but “delaying sex or returning to a sexually risk-free status.” Abstinence-only education and natural family planning methods have not traditionally been a part of Title X.
Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, described the new guidelines as “troubling,” saying in a press release, “It is contrary to public health to silo contraception from health care in Title X and deliberately shift toward a model focused more on behavior change.”
(photos via Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images + Getty Images)