New Jersey approves $9.5M for family planning over HHS abortion-referral rule

New Jersey will put $9.5 million toward the state’s gaps in family planning resources after some providers, such as Planned Parenthood, dropped out of the federal family-planning Title X program over new federal regulations barring doctors in the program from referring patients for abortions.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Thursday that takes effect immediately and will grant funding for “family planning services” to former Title X participants “who subsequently became ineligible … due to the adoption of federal regulations prohibiting the use of Title X funds based on the provider’s core mission and not the provider’s ability to deliver family planning services.”

Title X is a federally funded program that provides resources including contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and preventive education and testing for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV — but not abortions.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services moved to bar health care providers that participate in the program from discussing abortion with patients or offering abortion referrals, prompting multiple court challenges against the so-called “gag rule.” After an appeals court allowed the rule to go into effect despite an ongoing challenge, Planned Parenthood — which covers 40% of Title X’s patients, according to the organization — opted to drop the program’s federal funding in August.

Murphy accused the federal government on Thursday of having “once again put narrow political interests before the best interests of the American people by implementing the Title X gag rule, which blocks women from access to vital information and resources that are critical to their health.”

“Family planning providers like Planned Parenthood made a conscious decision to continue providing health care information and resources at the expense of much-needed federal funding,” he continued in a statement. “Today, New Jersey is stepping up to replace federal Title X funding for family planning providers to ensure that New Jersey’s women and families have access to high-quality reproductive health care resources and family planning services.”

The bill cites data from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association that in 2017, New Jersey received nearly $8.9 million through Title X for 45 sites serving 99,844 patients. It states that 72% of those patients received care at Planned Parenthood locations, which now no longer participate in the program.

Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, thanked the state “for taking action to protect New Jersey patients who have been impacted by the Trump-Pence gag rule.”

“We cannot allow even one New Jerseyan to be denied care because of the Trump-Pence gag rule,” she added in a statement. “Patients must be able to continue to access the reproductive health care services they need and deserve.”

The new rule has had significant impacts on recipients’ access to Title X. About 900 clinics have dropped out of the program, according to a report by the reproductive rights group Power to Decide, citing instances of more limited and expensive services. Additionally, after HHS opted to reassign the relinquished Title X funds to some remaining participants, a report by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that gaps in access remain.