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Proposed Abortion Restrictions Would Hit Young Patients Hardest


A new proposal on abortion from the Trump administration has health care providers and patients looking for answers on what it means for them. The proposal would ban Title X federal funds from going to any organization that provides abortions. It also stops those federal dollars from going to places that refer patients to abortion providers. Abortion rights groups are calling it a gag order. Other people see it as a campaign promise from the president being fulfilled, particularly because it would affect funding for Planned Parenthood. It's another example of health care and politics coming together, which is why we have called Julie Rovner. She's the chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News. Julie, thanks for joining us.

JULIE ROVNER: Thanks for having me.

GONYEA: So, what exactly are these Title X funds, and why are they so controversial?

ROVNER: Well, Title X is Title X of the Public Health Service Act. It is the federal family planning program, and it provides money to organizations to provide not just family planning birth control but also screening for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases to both men and women. It's been around since 1970. That was three years before abortion was made legal nationwide. So none of the funds from the family planning program have ever been allowed to be used to provide abortions.

GONYEA: OK, so the Reagan administration - and this is back in the 1980s - it proposed a similar rule that the Supreme Court did uphold. Why is this rule, today, being proposed again, and what does the previous decision mean for this particular moment?

ROVNER: Well, the rule that was proposed in the late 1980s was fought in court. As you mentioned, the Supreme Court upheld it. It went through the first Bush administration. By the time all of the court fights were finished, President Clinton had taken office and he canceled it, so it went away. And this is the first time that there is an effort to bring back this rule. And the goal, of course, is to to separate Planned Parenthood, the organization, from the Title X family planning program because Planned Parenthood uses nonfederal funds to refer for abortion and to promote abortion and to provide abortions. And that makes anti-abortion groups see red.

GONYEA: OK. So will this make it harder to get an abortion?

ROVNER: It is already hard to get an abortion. There are fewer and fewer abortion providers. The big question with these regulations is, will it make it harder to get family planning? The administration says that these rules, which we haven't seen yet, would not take any money away from the program. But the question is, if Planned Parenthood can no longer participate, are there enough other providers to fill in the gaps in areas - particularly more remote, rural areas. Sometimes, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of these types of services, so it's not clear what would happen as a result of that.

GONYEA: This is still a proposed rule change - proposed. When does it become official? What's the process there?

ROVNER: We haven't even seen the proposal. They've only sent it to the Office of Management and Budget. So when we see it, it will be a proposed rule. There will be a time for taking comments, and then we'll see a final rule. That can take a couple of months or several months. So this is not a done deal.

GONYEA: I'm breaking no news here when I say abortion has been a huge political issue for decades now, but this seems like it guarantees it will be a bigger issue than it might have otherwise been in the midterms.

ROVNER: And I think that was the idea. This is the - anti-abortion group said this would be a way to sort of motivate the base, but I think it might motivate the other side as well. People who don't like this rule think it will make it harder for Planned Parenthood to get funding. So, it might end up, as you mentioned, making this whole question a bigger issue in the campaign than it otherwise might have been. But at least it might turn out some more anti-abortion forces who otherwise could have stayed home.

GONYEA: That was Julie Rovner, Chief Washington Correspondent for Kaiser Health News. She joins us from our studio here in D.C. Thanks, Julie.

ROVNER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.