By Britain Eakin/Courthouse News
WASHINGTON (CN) – A new abstinence focus at the White House inspired pushback from Planned Parenthood this year, but numerous affiliates of the organization learned Thursday afternoon that they made the list for upcoming Title X grants.
According to a funding announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all Planned Parenthood affiliates that applied for direct grants received one.
But the organization called the funding announcement “highly irregular,” noting that Health and Human Services did not include pertinent information.
“Today’s announcement from HHS was highly unusual and extremely limited,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “The announcement contains no information about the size of the grants or the time period.”
Laguens continued: “What is clear is that HHS intends to award Title X grants to Planned Parenthood for fiscal year 2018, further reinforcing the fact that Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider in the Title X program.”
Planned Parenthood had been concerned that it would lose funding for its 45-year-old family-planning program under new HHS criteria the organization said would favor providers that promote abstinence over contraception.
This past May the new criteria inspired a federal challenge by Planned Parenthood affiliates in Wisconsin, Ohio and Utah, which joined forces with the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.
Since the awards had not yet been granted, however, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden sided with the government on July 17, calling the lawsuit premature. A week later, McFadden called it likely that the challengers would receive grants for fiscal-year 2018 since they represent about 84 percent of Title X providers.
McFadden also said changes to the criteria did not constitute a final agency action the court could review.
Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association appealed McFadden’s July 17 ruling, and also asked the court to preserve current funding levels while the D.C. Circuit considers the matter.
McFadden denied that request on July 25.
On Thursday, shortly before HHS announced Title X grant recipients, the government filed an appeal brief urging the D.C. Circuit to affirm McFadden’s ruling.
“All current grantees who applied for grants under the challenged criteria will receive grant funds,” Department of Justice attorney Jaynie Lilley wrote in the brief.
Given the outcome to the $286 million grant competition, the government argued that there is no longer any threat of economic or reputational harm.
Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association had argued that the revised Title X criteria would devastate the low-income communities the federal program was designed to serve.
In addition to mass staff layoffs, the organizations had argued that funding cuts would lead to as well as shuttered clinics, leaving millions of patients without access to life-saving health care.
Thursday’s announcement from HHS shows that 96 applicants, including 12 new grantees, are on the list for upcoming Title X grants. The funds will be dispersed no later than September 1.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to continue providing access to high-quality family planning and related preventive health services with an emphasis on overall health and well-being of every person,” Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, said in a statement. “This vital public health program makes important contributions toward achieving optimal health outcomes for the women and men who depend on it.”
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association did not respond to a request for comment on the Title X grant award announcement and how it would impact their ongoing litigation.
While the Justice Department declined to comment on the case, a representative for HHS denied that the litigation affected how the grants were awarded.
“No,” said the spokesperson, who refused to be quoted by name. “Title X grants are awarded through a competitive process to public and private nonprofit entities. Title X grants are reviewed using the same process that is used across the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.
“A competitive funding announcement is published at Grants.gov announcing the competition,” the spokesperson added. “Eligible applicants are reviewed by a panel of independent reviewers and are evaluated based on criteria in the Funding Opportunity Announcement and the Title X regulations.
“Federal staff also review each application for programmatic and grants management compliance and conduct a risk analysis in accordance with Uniform Administrative Requirements.”