U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D - Newark) met with advocates of the Title X federal family planning program, expressing concerns about potential controversial changes that will remove funding from any participating family planning organization that offers abortions or refers patients to abortion providers, while maintaining that the program provides needed and multifaceted health care options for the community.
"This is hypocritical. The federal government should not be squeezing itself into examination rooms to dictate what a doctor can and cannot say to a patient," said Payne at a round table meeting held at Planned Parenthood's offices in downtown Newark on Wednesday. "This is terrible policy, and it is unacceptable."
The congressman's comments came the day after a federal judge in Oregon said he would grant a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration from setting new rules that would have stripped millions of dollars in government funding from Planned Parenthood.
The proposed changes that were set to go into effect May 3 would cut off funding from any participating family planning organization that offers abortions or refers patients to abortion providers - a condition critics have labels a "gag rule."
The proposed rule concerns a $286 million-a-year grant, known as Title X, that pays for birth control, testing of sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings for 4 million low-income people. A challenge to the rule wound up in court after Oregon's and 20 other states' attorneys general, as well as the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood, filed lawsuits.
Rachel Baum of the New Jersey Family Planning League emphasized that Title X allows organizations such as Planned Parenthood to provide health services to communities that are often inadequately served.
"Here in New Jersey, 88 percent of the people who use Title X services are far below the federal poverty guidelines. They may not have resources to go if this grant is taken away," Baum said, adding that a high percentage those who obtain these services are people of color.
"For many people who are looking for confidential, preventative health care, the Title X program gives them the dignity and respect that they deserve," Baum said.
Reverend Rob Gregson of Unitarian Universalist FaithAction NJ pointed to the wider social implications of the debate over the Title X gag rule.
"For people of faith, there is generally often a discomfort talking about this because of the abortion rights piece. But we're talking about the individual right of choice. Again and again Americans in New Jersey and across the country have said that even if they have personal issues on a range of moral questions, the right to make their own choice with their medical provider is absolutely sacrosanct," Gregson said.
"Anything that takes away monies that especially affect families of color, or low-income people of any race or ethnicity, is immoral and unethical," Gregson said.
Payne noted that the preliminary injunction against the proposed Title X changes is only "a temporary victory."
"We're going to do what we need to do and continue to fight," Payne said. "We need to make sure that people have the services that they need, which is their right."