On Dec. 12, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners approved a budget amendment that grants $500,000 to Planned Parenthood in the absence of Title X funding. Planned Parenthood of Michigan had been forced out of the federal family planning program due to the Trump-Pence administration’s changes to the rules for receiving Title X funds. While Planned Parenthood is one of 30 Title X providers in the state of Michigan, its health centers provide care for nearly 70 percent of the program’s recipients.
Although Title X, the bipartisan program first enacted in 1970 to provide family planning and preventive health services, long prohibited coverage of abortion care, the new “gag rule” prevents recipients from even discussing abortion as an option or referring patients for that care. It is widely recognized that this is a violation of medical ethics in that it forces health care providers to withhold medical information from patients.
Board of Commissioners Chair Dave Woodward said the grant is the largest investment partnership with Planned Parenthood in Michigan.
“In my thinking, if the president’s going to turn his back on women’s health care, Oakland County’s not,” Woodward said of the Title X services that benefit men and non-binary people as well. “We believe it’s absolutely important that this level of care is able to continue. So realizing Planned Parenthood wasn’t eligible for these funds, Oakland County saw fit to step up and continue the level of support that it was receiving from the state of Michigan as we try to figure out long-term how are we going to address this need.”
Woodward pointed out that not only are Title X services “absolutely essential” to raising health status and ensuring family planning services are available to everyone, being able to provide those services is also important to Oakland County’s health accreditation.
“There’s really two things that need to happen,” Woodward said. First, regarding the “gag” rule: “I think there’s the recognition that … Oakland County residents definitely believe that politics should not have a place in the exam room. And we think this rule needs to be changed. And then long-term, I think with the new leadership in Oakland County, we have a lot of support on bringing family planning services directly into our health department offices,” he said, in reference to plans underway to provide expanded services at their health division locations in Pontiac and Southfield.
He said the county would be working with other partners to enable this new initiative and he expected plans to be reviewed and approved at the top of the year.
Impact on Patients
Egypt Otis, Planned Parenthood regional organizer for Oakland County and Flint, spoke to the impact of the loss of Title X funds on patients for whom Title X had subsidized health care services like prenatal care, cancer screenings, birth control and STI testing.
“The Ferndale health center, which is the one in Oakland County, saw more than … 4,700 patients last year,” Otis explained. “And almost all of them had their care subsidized by, or covered by, Title X funds. Our patients, especially those who identify with [the] LGBTQ community, come to us because they know we give them compassion. We’re compassionate, we’re nonjudgmental when we deliver care, as opposed to other providers who may not be [as] well trained or well aware of all of the needs of our patients and what they represent.”
Otis also pointed out that the Ferndale health center is the sole Title X provider in the county. Clearly, the stakes are high.
“That automatically creates a barrier for those who have no health care and need to go to someplace to receive the healthcare services that we provide,” she continued. “We’re doing what we can, of course, and this grant opportunity … is a great example of communities coming together and problem-solving if it isn’t happening with our federal government.
“Title X covers care for people who aren’t covered by Medicaid or private insurance. Basically, the people who can least afford to forego care and can least afford to pay for it. So it’s essential to public health,” Otis continued. “And it is like a testament to the commitment to the community that Oakland County leaders are taking that step.”
For the Record
At the meeting where the vote was taken, a few individuals spoke out against the budget amendment under the mistaken belief that the Title X replacement funds could be used to pay for abortions. For those who would insist that government funds provided to Planned Parenthood are fungible and indirectly fund abortion care, Lori Carpentier, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, set the record straight and ensured that they are audited by several organizations annually.
Later, Carpentier said in a statement, “Today’s vote showed that Oakland County’s leaders value healthy communities and access to the care that makes them possible. We are proud to partner with Oakland County to continue providing access to low- or no-cost reproductive care and birth control at our Ferndale health center.”
Given that reliance on the county is not a long-term, sustainable solution to Planned Parenthood’s loss of Title X funds, Otis had a few suggestions when asked what concerned individuals can do. First, she urged those who support protecting Title X to contact their members of Congress and make their voices heard. She also suggested becoming a Planned Parenthood member to support the work they do and to stay informed. Finally, she described the power of storytelling as a way to communicate the personal impact of vital programs like Title X.
“Our stories are what connects us to people,” Otis said. “We’re actually organizing a storytelling event in January. So I would encourage people to connect with their local organizers of Planned Parenthood and figure out how you can be a part of that.”
She concluded by sharing her own story of being a Title X recipient.
“If I didn’t have that support, I don’t know what I would have done.”
For more information on ways to become involved with Planned Parenthood visit miplannedparenthood.org/get-involved.