Gag rule would prevent physicians from discussing abortion

Vermont will stop using federal Title X funds to provide health care for low-income Vermonters in response to a Trump administration gag rule barring doctors and other health care providers who receive the funds from discussing abortion with patients.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD., notified U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services that Vermont will replace the federal funds with state funds on Monday.

The funds were provided to Planned Parenthood of New England which used the money to provide contraception, cancer screenings and other health care services to low-income families and those without insurance.

Nationally, Planned Parenthood is refusing the funds, which now come with ties barring health care providers from giving patients information about how or where to access abortion services.

The administration’s new rules also require those providing abortion services to be physically separated from recipients of Title X funds, a move Planned Parenthood of New England said was “clearly meant to push Planned Parenthood health centers and other reproductive health care providers out of Title X.”

In Vermont, Planned Parenthood uses Title X funds to provide care to nearly 11,000 patients at 10 centers around the state.

“These changes by HHS will disrupt one of our state’s most essential public health programs,” Levine said. “For nearly 50 years, Title X has helped ensure that Vermonters have access to quality family planning and we want to make sure this continues.”

The Trump administration’s new rules run afoul of state law. In 2019, Vermont enshrined in law “the fundamental right of every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion” and prohibited interference with “regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services or information, the choice of a consenting individual to terminate the individual’s pregnancy.”

“It’s important that we maintain women’s rights and access to health care,” said Governor Phil Scott. “It’s unfortunate we are at this point, but I appreciate the collaboration with the attorney general and legislature to put aside contingency funding in the 2018 budget. Vermont joins Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts and Maryland in foregoing Title X.”

“At Planned Parenthood, we are committed to serving all of our patients in Vermont, no matter what happens in Washington, D.C.,” said Lucy Leriche, vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “The Trump administration’s gag rule is a blatant attack on the health and rights of 11,000 Vermonters who rely on the Title X program for affordable birth control, cancer screenings, HIV tests, and other critical primary care. We will continue to provide our patients with the ethical and non-judgmental care they’ve come to expect at our health centers, and our doors will stay open.”

The gag rule has met with extensive opposition from the health care community both nationally and in Vermont from the American Medical Association to the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems as well as nurses, insurance companies and other health care providers.

Vermont Right to Life, however, maintains that the administration is simply enforcing a longstanding requirement that prohibits federal funding of programs where, in their words, “abortion is a method of family planning,” calling Planned Parenthood “a bad investment for Vermont taxpayers.”