Assembly to Vote on Family Planning Funding to Fill ‘Gag Rule’ Gap

Lilo H. Stainton | November 25, 2019 | Health Care
An additional $9.5 million would be given to dozens of health care facilities to fund services for low-income women
Credit: NJTV News
A measure going before the state Assembly would give $9.5 million in state funds to Planned Parenthood and other family health care centers.

Lawmakers in Trenton will likely endorse a plan today to provide extra state resources to health care facilities that gave up federal funding in lieu of accepting a Trump administration “gag rule” preventing them from discussing abortion. The measure would give an additional $9.5 million to sustain services for low-income women at dozens of facilities.

The supplemental funding bill is scheduled for a vote in the full Democratic-controlled state Assembly Monday, just weeks after that house’s appropriations committee introduced and approved it. Advocates expect the Senate version, sponsored by the Senate president and other Democratic leaders, to receive attention in December.

The measure would commit money from the current state budget to replace the $8.9 million in federal funds Planned Parenthood and other family health care centers lost when they refused to comply with new regulations added to the Title X program in February. The state Department of Health would distribute the resources, based on what the 40-plus participating facilities in New Jersey would have received from Washington, D.C.

“The funding deficit — if the state does not step in to fill the gap — will have a significant negative impact on New Jersey’s family planning and women’s health services’ day-to-day operations, and the health of women in our state,” said Assembly Democratic leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), a sponsor of the bill.

Established in 1970, Title X provides $286 million nationwide for women’s health and family planning services, including cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and birth control; experts credit the program with reducing the number of preterm and underweight babies, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as cancers, and saving $7 in health care costs for every $1 invested. Federal law prohibits this money from paying for abortions, but the Trump administration imposed additional restrictions at facilities funded by Title X that prohibits their doctors or other clinicians from referring patients to abortion services.

The only regular source of health care for many women

New Jersey joined Oregon and 19 other states in suing the federal government over the proposal, which Planned Parenthood has called medically unethical. Advocates also warn the funding loss could erode what is often the only regular source of health care services for more than 100,000 low-income women in New Jersey — including many women of color — and millions nationwide. Planned Parenthood, which serves seven out of 10 of these patients through 22 sites, is now running on emergency funds.

“Many low-income women rely on family planning clinics for regular check-ups, care before and after pregnancy, cancer screenings, HIV testing and many other health concerns,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), another sponsor. “Restricting access to family planning centers will leave some women with nowhere to turn. The funding allocated in this bill is vital to make sure quality health care centers like Planned Parenthood are able to keep their doors open.”

The bill (A-5802) would appropriate $9.5 million from the fiscal year 2020 budget adopted in June to DOH, to be distributed among the more than two-dozen family planning clinics that are entitled to Title X funds but opted out due to the gag rule. Providers could not receive more from the state than what the federal government allocated in the past two funding cycles, plus any revenue lost from other Title X funding streams.

“It is the sponsor’s intent that this supplemental appropriation will provide continuity and stability for the funding of family planning services provided to low income women in the State by replacing any federal funding that family planning providers will lose with the adoption of new federal regulations governing the use of Title X funding,” the bill reads.

The new funding would be in addition to a $7.45 million budget line Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy restored days after he took office in 2018, which is designed to supplement Title X funding to family planning facilities. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, had suspended this annual support during his two four-year terms.