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Underwood takes action against family planning “gag rule”


NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood filed comments opposing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' ("HHS") Proposed Rule that would, if implemented, reduce access to family planning services and harm the very individuals intended to benefit from HHS's Title X family planning funding program. Attorney General Underwood will sue if this proposed "gag rule" becomes law.

"Title X is a tremendously successful family planning program – providing affordable, confidential, and desperately-needed care to low-income patients across New York," said Attorney General Underwood. "This gag rule will drive health care providers out of the program and harm the very patients that Title X is intended to serve. The Proposed Rule must be withdrawn in its entirety – and if it becomes law, we will sue."

Title X is a critical source of family planning funds, supporting programs that serve over 4 million individuals nationally, including over 300,000 individuals in New York. The services provided through Title X include screenings for depression, sexually-transmitted diseases, and breast and cervical cancers; comprehensive counseling on a broad range of effective and medically-approved family planning methods; and access to effective contraception. Through its comprehensive array of healthcare services, the Title X program has played a significant role in protecting the health of vulnerable populations and preventing unwanted pregnancies.  

In the comment letter to HHS, Attorney General Underwood details how the Proposed Rule unnecessarily jeopardizes the success of this decades-old federal program by imposing regulations that would reduce and delay patient access to care and decrease the quality of care provided through Title X. In particular, the Proposed Rule would significantly interfere with the patient-provider relationship by restricting providers' ability to provide medically-appropriate information and care as well as accurate information necessary for patients' timely continuity of care. It would also impose onerous physical and financial separation requirements, making it difficult, if not impossible, for many existing providers to continue participating in Title X.

Not only are the regulatory changes in the Proposed Rule entirely unnecessary, but there are numerous ways in which they will ultimately harm patients, including that they will:
  • drive experienced and high quality providers out of the program; 
  • delay patient access to care; 
  • reduce access to prenatal providers;  
  • deprive patients of evidenced-based care; 
  • prevent providers from complying with state law requirements concerning patient care; 
  • force providers to violate professional guidelines concerning the provision of information on reproductive health and abortion; and 
  • compromise patients' confidentiality and trust in Title X providers 
Moreover, the Proposed Rule raises serious legal concerns, including that it exceeds the scope of HHS's authority under Title X and infringes upon patients' and providers' constitutional rights. For all of these reasons and more, the Proposed Rule must be withdrawn in its entirety.  

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