May 4, 2018 Press Release

Equity Forward Sues HHS Over Failure to Produce Documents Related to Title X Changes

05.04.18 – Equity Forward, represented by American Oversight, today sued HHS after its failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for correspondence between HHS officials responsible for the Title X program and extreme anti-reproductive health groups and individuals.

The suit comes as the Trump Administration has pushed the Title X program — a program initially signed into law by President Nixon — away from providing low- or no- cost birth control to low-income people across the U.S. and towards abstinence only education. Earlier this week– Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association separately sued the Trump administration over potential changes to the Title X program that contradict Congress’ intent in creating the program.

“The Trump administration issued guidelines for the Title X program – a birth control program – without mentioning birth control even once. For nearly 50 years during both Republican and Democratic administrations, Title X has provided low- or no-cost birth control to low-income people across the U.S.," said Marcy Alice Carter, Executive Director of Equity Forward.  “Now, Secretary Azar’s HHS has abandoned Title X’s non-political and medically grounded tradition and empowered people, such as Valerie Huber, who doesn’t even believe that certain birth control works, to determine who will receive Title X funds – all with little to no public debate. It’s critical that the public is able to understand how these policies are changing, and what extremist groups are guiding these changes.”

Equity Forward is seeking select correspondence between three high-level HHS officials and several extreme anti-reproductive health advocacy groups, including, Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, Charlotte Lozier Institute, as well as the offices of Reps. Chris Smith, Vicky Hartzler and Dan Lipinski. This week, these extreme anti-reproductive health groups and members of Congress sent HHS officials a letter urging them to institute a “domestic gag rule” that would bar Title X family planning providers from even mentioning abortion.  If this happens, it will jeopardize access to comprehensive health care services for up to four million patients that rely on Title X.

Carter continued, “Title X has been critical to reducing the unintended pregnancy rate and teen pregnancy rate in the United States. And yet, Secretary Azar is working overtime to obliterate the program without being open with the public about who is guiding these seismic policy changes.”

Equity Forward initially filed its FOIA available HERE with HHS on March 29, 2018, and the agency has yet to substantively respond to the request. The suit has been filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia available HERE.

Additional Background On Recent Title X Developments

The delayed Title X guidance released in March includes a points system for evaluating grantee applications that had been radically altered in ways that are both politically motivated and allow for less qualified applicants to become grantees. The new system lowered grant applicants’ potential points for factors – such as the adequacy of staff and facilities and the extent to which family planning services are needed locally – that are critical in providing high quality health care to underserved individuals. At the same time, it increased the weight in areas that invite both political and extremist views into the process.

A new item (see slide 43) in the grant’s application review criteria worth 25 points gives priority to “natural family planning methods (also known as fertility awareness based methods)”, promotion of abstinence and to “not normalize sexual risk behaviors.” No other forms of birth control are listed as priorities or key issues.

Additionally, the Regional Health Administrators were stripped of their power to make final grant award decisions, which previously existed to ensure that need, not politics, drove the process. They were replaced by the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, Valerie Huber, a political appointee who has spent nearly two-decades promoting abstinence-only, anti-contraception programs.