KAUL (copy)

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Wisconsin will join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in a lawsuit challenging a President Donald Trump administration policy that would direct tens of millions of dollars away from Planned Parenthood, Attorney General Josh Kaul said Tuesday.

The Trump administration issued a rule last month prohibiting organizations that provide or refer for abortions from participating in the federal Title X family planning program, which provides more than 4 million low-income patients with health services like cancer screenings, STI testing and contraception. 

In 2017, 88 percent of the patients who received Title X-funded services were women, 65 percent were under age 30 and 61 percent identified as an ethnicity other than white. 

Organizations that receive Title X funds are prohibited from using the money to perform abortions. Under the new rule, set to take effect in 60 days, federally funded family planning clinics could not refer patients for abortions and could not share any physical or financial resources with abortion providers.

Opponents of the change, including Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, call it a "gag rule." The two groups filed a separate lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the rule.

Planned Parenthood has said it will withdraw from the Title X program if the rule is implemented, losing an estimated $60 million per year. The organization currently serves about 40 percent of patients who receive Title X services, at 1.6 million nationwide. 

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin president Tanya Atkinson said the organization serves more than 31,000 Title X patients in Wisconsin, or 87 percent of Title X patients in the state. 

"These patients rely on Planned Parenthood for critical preventive reproductive health care like birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment and well woman exams. No Title X funds go toward abortion care," Atkinson said in a statement. "Today’s lawsuits underscore just how egregious the gag rule is."

The multi-state lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Oregon, argues the rule would diminish access to and quality of reproductive health care while interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.

"All Wisconsinites should have access to safe, quality health care, including family planning services," Kaul said in a statement. "But if the new rules for the Title X program aren’t blocked, quality health care will become less accessible. Those changes are unlawful, and they should be set aside."

Gov. Tony Evers offered support for the challenge,  arguing that health care access "shouldn't be political."

"All patients deserve access to unbiased, medically accurate, comprehensive care," Evers said in a statement. "The Trump administration’s new rules would make it harder for thousands of Wisconsinites to access the critical family planning and preventative health services our Title X clinics provide each year."

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin led three state Planned Parenthood affiliates in a lawsuit filed last year seeking to block the Trump administration from implementing changes to the Title X program that would stress abstinence and practices like the "rhythm method" over comprehensive contraception methods. A federal judge ruled in favor of the Trump administration in July.

In his first state budget, introduced last week, Evers proposed reinstating Planned Parenthood's eligibility for federal funding streams that was stripped away by former Gov. Scott Walker. Republican lawmakers have said they will oppose the move. 

Wisconsin Right to Life executive director Heather Weininger has also pledged to oppose the Evers administration's efforts to undo Walker-era abortion policies.

"Wisconsin Right to Life will continue to work to ensure that the Title X changes that were passed into law are followed and that women and babies truly are served in Wisconsin. There are federally-qualified health centers throughout our state which are better suited to provide women the full realm of healthcare as well as care for their unborn children than any of the 21 Planned Parenthood facilities in Wisconsin," Weininger said in a statement last month.

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