Planned Parenthood Sues HHS for Shifting Title X Funding Criteria Toward Groups That Promote Abstinence

WASHINGTON — The abortion and contraception giant Planned Parenthood has sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for altering its Title X funding criteria to prefer groups that promote abstinence and work with faith-based entities.

The organization points to language in HHS’ 2018 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which states that applicants should encourage “avoiding sexual risk.” Planned Parenthood interprets this notation as referring to abstinence.

Among the application review criteria includes the outline that organizations should place “[a] meaningful emphasis on education and counseling that communicates the social science research and practical application of topics related to healthy relationships, to committed, safe, stable, healthy marriages, and the benefits of avoiding sexual risk or returning to a sexually risk-free status, especially (but not only) when communicating with adolescents.”

It also recommends “[a]ctivities for adolescents that do not normalize sexual risk behaviors, but instead clearly communicate the research informed benefits of delaying sex or returning to a sexually risk-free status.”

Planned Parenthood therefore bemoans in its lawsuit, filed on behalf of affiliates in Wisconsin, Ohio and Utah, that the 2018 application criteria “now give[s] the most weight to new ‘program priorities’ and ‘key issues,’ such as placing ‘meaningful emphasis’ on abstinence as an approach to birth control (even for adults), providing onsite primary care, and cooperating with faith-based organizations.”

It argues that the criteria violates the statutory mandate that Title X recipients must provide “acceptable and effective” family planning services, as Planned Parenthood doesn’t believe promoting abstinence is effective.

“Abstinence prevents pregnancy and STIs when used perfectly, but in reality it has extremely high rates of ‘user failure’—that is, people often decide to have sex, even if they had previously intended to abstain from sex,” the complaint reads. “Emphasizing abstinence to adult patients would be particularly inappropriate.”

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“Indeed, placing a ‘meaningful emphasis’ on abstinence until marriage to an unmarried, healthy adult woman who wishes to be sexually active, and who comes to a health center for an IUD, would not only be a coercive and egregious clinical practice, but would disrespect the patient’s dignity as an individual … and could be understood as refusing service based on marital status,” it asserts.

The organization also takes issue with the preference that the applicant have a working relationship with faith-based organizations, as it contends that while it does provide sex education to professing religious groups, “some faith-based groups are opposed to comprehensive family planning care—the very thing that that the Title X program supports.”

Planned Parenthood also argues that based on the 2018 criteria, religious organizations may now have the advantage to be granted Title X funding over Planned Parenthood.

“Competing applicants, like religious hospitals and organizations that focus on abstinence-only education or primary care services, may now score higher than Plaintiffs, who are committed to providing comprehensive, evidence-based family planning care. Plaintiffs thus face the prospect of losing some or all of the Title X funds on which they and their patients depend,” it asserted.

Planned Parenthood is therefore asking the court to declare the 2018 application review criteria “arbitrary and capricious,” and to issue an injunction against their enforcement.

Read the complaint in full here.

“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to … push people toward abstinence or pressure women into marriage—instead of helping them get quality health care,” asserted Gillian Dean, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services. “Everyone deserves the right to control their own bodies and future, and to get the care they need.”

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 states, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.”

Ephesians 5:3 also teaches, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.”

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