Planned Parenthood funds are safe in Pa. and N.J., for now

Groups strategize buring breakout portion of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania session at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral in Phila. on January 25, 2017. The session is intended to let supporters strategize about how to fight back against the Trump administration's ant-abortion and anti-women policies, including GOP efforts to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood's health services. Like last week's march by a million women in Washington and cities around the country and the world, the Planned Parenthood gathering reflects a surprisingly intense, immense backlash. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

While President Trump signed a law last week aimed at pulling funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions, those providers won't be affected for the time being in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, because of the way those states distribute money for family-planning care for low-income people, officials say.

Defunding Planned Parenthood has long been a goal for congressional Republicans. The law Trump signed April 13 rescinds an Obama-era rule designed to reinforce protections surrounding Title X funds, which cover cancer screenings, birth control, and services for sexually transmitted diseases. Those funds can’t be used for abortions — by law, no federal money can.

The new law has been trumpeted by antiabortion groups as a way to strip any federal money, regardless of what it pays for, from abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

In states that have direct control over Title X money, the law could embolden  legislatures to strip that funding from Planned Parenthood. But in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Title X funds are distributed by independent nonprofits, which pledge to continue to fund local Planned Parenthoods.

“It keeps the Title X grant from being part of the political process at the state level,” said Melissa Weiler-Gerber, CEO of Access Matters, which distributes funds in the Philadelphia region. It’s one of four nonprofits in Pennsylvania that do so.

“I think all of us recognize the importance of Planned Parenthood in our networks — they’re really important players across the state and nation,” she said. “The real concern is in states where the issue has become politicized and where the Title X grant is held in a state Department of Health.”

Local antiabortion groups have hailed Trump's action.

“This vitally important law offers states the ability to shift tax funding to facilities that can provide the best quality health care for women, rather than an organization mired in controversy, such as Planned Parenthood,” Maria Gallagher, the legislative director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said in a statement.

Last year, 103,393 people in five Southeastern Pennsylvania counties participated in Title X programs funded by $5.3 million in federal grants, Weiler-Gerber said.

In New Jersey, 70 percent of the patients who receive care under Title X get it at Planned Parenthood, said Kate Clark, the external relations director of the New Jersey Family Planning League, which distributes that state’s Title X funds — about $8.6 million in the last year. It, too, has no plans to pull funding from Planned Parenthood.

“They are a significant part of our delivery system,” she said. “We’re proud to support the work they do.”

Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood’s Southeastern Pennsylvania branch, said the organization’s clinics serve nearly half of the region’s Title X patients. Though donations have surged since the election — and every time Planned Parenthood enters the national conversation — they wouldn’t be enough to fill the gap if Title X or Medicaid funds were withheld, she said.

“We can rest assured [Access Matters] isn’t going to discriminate against Planned Parenthood in this case,” Steinberg said. “But this definitely won’t be the last attempt to eliminate Title X funding. We are still on the menu, for sure. And any attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on the patients we serve.”

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