By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday issued a proposal that would effectively stop giving government funds that subsidize birth control for low-income women to Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions.
The plan is aimed at fulfilling Trump’s campaign pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions and other health services for women, and comes as Republicans push to energize Trump supporters ahead of November congressional elections.
Congress provided $286 million in Title X grants in 2017 to Planned Parenthood and other health centers to provide birth control, screening for diseases and cancer, and other reproductive counseling to low-income women.
The funding cannot be used for abortions, but abortion opponents have long complained that the money subsidizes Planned Parenthood itself.
“You can still get an abortion in this country. You can get it in many different places. We don’t just don’t think taxpayers should have to pay for that,” said Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to Trump, on Fox News Channel.
Planned Parenthood said it would not back down from providing abortions and counseling, and would fight the rule in court if needed.
The group provides healthcare services to about 40 percent of the 4 million people covered by the Title X program, and said community health centers would not be able to absorb its patients.
The organization called it a “gag rule” that would roll back a requirement that medical professionals provide information about abortions.
“If a woman is pregnant and wants or needs an abortion, under this rule, her provider will be prohibited from telling her where she could get one,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the group, told reporters.
Groups that oppose abortion said the plan would not ban abortion counseling, but would ensure that taxpayer funding does not support clinics that also perform abortions.
The Susan B. Anthony List, a group that backs political candidates who oppose abortion, praised the move. Trump is scheduled to speak at its fundraising gala next week.
“This is a major victory which will energize the grassroots as we head into the critical midterm elections,” the group said in a statement.
The timelines and details of the proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately available. The plan will go through a review process run by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“The proposal would require a bright line of physical as well as financial separation between Title X programs and any program (or facility) where abortion is performed, supported, or referred for as a method of family planning,” an administration official said in a statement.
In February, the Trump administration shifted guidelines for the Title X grants toward prioritizing groups that are faith-based and counsel abstinence.
Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association filed lawsuits seeking to block the change.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernadette Baum)