The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to backfill funding Planned Parenthood lost due the Trump administration's gag rule preventing clinics receiving federal funds from making referrals for abortion services.
The federal restrictions, which went into effect this summer but have been challenged in court by 22 states, prohibit any clinics that receive money through the Title X grant program from referring pregnant women for abortion services. A panel of judges for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case Monday.
Clinics have always been barred from spending Title X funding on abortions, but the new regulations break from a long-standing precedent by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that allowed doctors to counsel women and provide referrals for all medical options.
Rather than abide by the rules, Planned Parenthood and other organizations opted out of the $286 million program, amounting to a $23 million loss across 350 clinic sites in California. Santa Clara County, which has six Planned Parenthood clinics serving 36,274 patients, faces a $482,000 annual shortfall.
Title X grant funds are used for a broad range of family planning and other services, including contraception, pregnancy testing, counseling, cancer screenings, infertility services and the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
"We're talking about the most basic health services for women: birth control, pregnancy tests, mammograms, pap smears, cancer screenings," board member Cindy Chavez said at a Sept. 10 meeting.
She described the Trump administration's actions on Title X funding as both irresponsible and cruel. "At a local level we're trying to step up for the women in our community," she said.
Restoring Planned Parenthood's funding has been a recurring topic for supervisors going back to March, who hoped that the new regulations would be abandoned, relaxed or blocked in court. With dwindling optimism that the Trump administration's rule change will be overturned, supervisors voted unanimously to approve the $482,000 in funding at the Sept. 24 board meeting.
Though the county is specifically providing funding to Planned Parenthood to keep its programs afloat from September this year through June 2020, supervisors acknowledged that the agreement may need to become an ongoing, annual expenditure.
"This is a one-year resource and we are going to need to be thinking about how to address this over multiple years, potentially," Chavez said.
Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider in the county that can provide comprehensive medical services for family planning and tap into the full potential of Title X, said Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which operates over 30 clinics in California and Nothern Nevada, including in Mountain View and Redwood City. She said the clinics provide information about all services around family planning through the grant program, which would be lost without financial assistance from the county.
Although Planned Parenthood and other former Title X recipients could have tried to stick to the new rules and avoid any mention of abortion services, Rodriguez said doing so would be irresponsible for health care providers charged with giving patients holistic health care services and the best advice they can provide.
"We feel that not providing full information for our patients about all their options is bad medicine," she said. "It's dangerous and we don't want to be bound by that rule. More than that, we just don't want to do it on principle."
Speaking on behalf of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte at the Sept. 10 board meeting, Rodriguez said the funding would bring continuity of services that simply aren't available anywhere else.
"It would be a great loss to the county to lose us as a Title X provider, and we're thankful to you for looking into the issue and the dearth of care if we weren't able to provide it," she said.
Planned Parenthood's six county clinics includes one on San Antonio Road in Mountain View, which is the only location operated by the organization between Redwood City and San Jose. In addition to family planning services, the clinic provides primary care to thousands of patients each year, many of whom are low-income families.
The Mountain View clinic is being forced to move following plans by the developer Greystar to raze the single-story commercial buildings and construct a 632-unit apartment complex at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. The plan was to relocate down the street to 2500 California St. this month, but the date was pushed back as the organization waits for permits from the city of Mountain View to operate an elevator in the building. The clinic is now set to open in late October.