West Virginia’s only Planned Parenthood health clinic, like those across the nation, will withdraw from a federal program that gives money to family planning programs nationwide, rather than accept limits on what its staff members can talk about with their patients.
The new regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — called a “gag rule” by Planned Parenthood representatives — prohibits organizations that receive Title X federal funding from referring patients to an abortion provider or explaining to them how or where they can access abortions. Groups receiving Title X funding were directed to send a letter to HHS by the end of the day Monday detailing how they plan to comply with the regulations.
Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, said in a call to reporters Monday afternoon that her organization will not follow practices that are harmful to patients, including not informing them of all of their care options.
“The Trump administration has forced Planned Parenthood grantees out of Title X,” Johnson said. “We will not be bullied out of providing abortion information to our patients.”
Officials would not say Monday how much of Planned Parenthood’s budget comes from Title X funding. For now, Johnson said, the organization is relying on reserve funds to continue its operations
Eventually, she said, the cuts will mean longer wait times for patients trying to access care and, in some cases, cuts in services.
“The impact will vary state by state,” Johnson said. “We’re committed to keeping our doors open as long as possible. For many patients who access services at Planned Parenthood, the impacts will be devastating.”
West Virginia’s only Planned Parenthood Health Center is in Vienna, Wood County. The center offers cancer screenings, prenatal care, postnatal care, STI testing and treatment, contraception and other services. It does not offer abortion services — the Women’s Health Center in Charleston is the only abortion provider in the state.
Sarah Riddle, communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said the center in Vienna sees about 1,000 patients a year, and most qualify for Title X funds.
The way operations are going now, she said, as the organization seeks out private money and to limit the effect on its patients, is not sustainable.
“We’re already seeing the effects [of the loss of Title X funds],” Riddle said. “It’s not sustainable long-term, and we know health care, receiving services, is not a one-time thing. We need patients to be able to rely on us.”
Planned Parenthood isn’t the only agency in West Virginia that receives Title X funds. According to HHS, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources was granted $1.9 million in April 2019 to keep Title X family planning programs operating until March 2022.
Officials from the DHHR could not be reached for comment on whether the new regulations will affect services offered by the agency.
Nationwide, Planned Parenthood serves 40 percent of the 4 million patients who are under Title X. The organization, Riddle said, acts as an initial point of contact for many, especially those in rural areas, who might need health services — whether cancer screenings or contraception access — but are afraid they cannot afford it.
Riddle said providers at clinics like the one in Vienna see patients for a number of services, including help with opioid addiction.
“What we’re really talking about is denying lifesaving health care to West Virginians,” Riddle said. “West Virginia is already experiencing a real health care crisis in the entire state. To impose regulations that slash health care access more, when West Virginians are demanding more access, is going to be detrimental for decades to come.”