Pritzker joins Planned Parenthood in rejecting Trump gag rule

Governor commits to keeping reproductive-health services open

Gov. Pritzker and Planned Parenthood of Illinois President Jennifer Welch (right) speak at a bill-signing ceremony for the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Gov. Pritzker and Planned Parenthood of Illinois President Jennifer Welch (right) speak at a bill-signing ceremony for the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined Planned Parenthood and other reproductive-health services Monday in rejecting President Trump’s “gag rule” forbidding them to even discuss abortion with patients.

Pritzker joined a national media conference call arranged by Planned Parenthood on the day the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set as a deadline for agencies to submit formal letters either complying with the gag rule or dropping out of the Title X program, which supplies birth control, cancer screening, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections to low-income citizens.

Calling the so-called gag rule “fundamentally wrong,” Pritzker said, “This policy has caused a mess of confusion and uncertainty destabilizing women’s health care nationwide and doing extraordinary harm to the lives of low-income patients and particularly women of color.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, said it treats 40 percent of the estimated 4.2 million patients nationwide who get health care under Title X — a program created in 1970 by the Nixon administration.

“We believe that the Trump administration is doing this as an attack on reproductive health care and to keep providers like Planned Parenthood from serving our patients,” Johnson said. “Our patients come to us because they expect the best information and health care available, and we have a commitment to provide that to them. The gag rule would make it impossible for us to uphold that commitment.”

“This is an extraordinarily harmful approach,” Pritzker added. “Illinois will not stand by and watch the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deny women proper medical treatment.”

Pritzker cited how the American Medical Association is also opposed to the gag rule, in that it limits the full range of treatment physicians can discuss with their patients. Not only are reproductive health services receiving the federal funds forbidden to perform abortions, they’re also banned from being affiliated with abortion services, and doctors are also not allowed to even discuss abortion as an option with patients.

Jessica Pinckney, spokeswoman for In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, said, “Every individual should have the right to make informed decisions about their fertility and to plan a family without coercion by the government.”

Johnson said the gag rule would block federal grants to health-care services in many rural areas as well. Planned Parenthood of Illinois pointed out last week it serves over 40 percent of the patients in the state who rely on Title X for care and is the only Title X provider in six counties in central Illinois: LaSalle, Macon, McLane, Peoria, Sangamon, and Tazewell.

“We continue to advocate for the rights of all Illinois residents to have access to abortion information and health care despite the latest move by the Trump-Pence administration to bully Planned Parenthood out of the Title X program with the unethical and dangerous gag rule,” said Jennifer Welch, president of the state organization, in a statement. “Illinois is a haven for reproductive health care, but the Title X gag rule sidesteps the choices of local residents and will create extreme negative consequences for our residents, especially in central Illinois where health-care access is already limited.”


“Illinois is a haven for reproductive health care, but the Title X gag rule sidesteps the choices of local residents and will create extreme negative consequences.”

Planned Parenthood of Illinois President Jennifer Welch (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

“Planned Parenthood is still open,” Johnson said. “We are continuing to fight this rule in court and will do everything we can to make sure our patients don’t lose care.”

A federal appeals court in San Francisco is slated to hear oral arguments on the case next month, but in the meantime the court allowed the federal Health and Human Services Department to impose the rule on Monday. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has joined in a separate suit against the Title X gag rule.

“We refuse to cower to the Trump-Pence administration,” Johnson said. “We will not be bullied into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Johnson said her organization was drawing on “emergency funds” to make up the gap in funding. “This is not about Planned Parenthood’s budget. This is about our patients,” she said. “We’re committed to keeping our doors open as long as possible,” Johnson added, “but it will have an impact.”

Johnson predicted, “It will simply be impossible for other health centers to fill the gap. Wait times will skyrocket and people will delay or go without care.”

Ann Marie Benitez, spokeswoman for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said it would force many families living on low incomes to choose between health care and food, adding, “It is not an exaggeration to say that people’s lives are on the line.”

Pritzker said Planned Parenthood served 70,000 people last year in Illinois, and the Illinois Department of Public Health distributed $4 million in federal funds to 28 agencies on reproductive health.

“Illinois stands with Planned Parenthood,” he said. “And in Illinois we will not support this gag rule. We will make sure that access to the services remains available because in Illinois we trust women.”

Welch issued another statement Monday saying: “Planned Parenthood being forced out of the Title X program due to the unethical gag rule is a devastating blow to Illinois residents, especially in central Illinois. In the short term, we have emergency funds to continue providing services for our patients, which is our No. 1 priority. However, this is not a permanent solution nor is this gap in funding something that can be covered through private philanthropy.”

Pritzker and Johnson both called on the U.S. Senate to take up a federal spending bill that protects Title X funding and that has already passed the House.

“An attack of this magnitude clearly calls for a federal solution,” Pritzker said.