Boulder County Health Clinics Stand to Lose Federal Funding with Possible Anti-abortion Rule

May 30, 2018 GMT

The first women’s health clinic in Colorado to provide abortion services is at risk of losing nearly 20 percent of its overall funding should proposed changes to the national family planning program come to fruition under President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, which has two locations in Longmont and Boulder, receives about $500,000 each year in funding through Title X, a federal grant program dedicated to providing family planning services as well as preventative health services.

If enacted, health care providers would not be allowed to perform abortions or refer patients to clinics for abortions if they want to continue to receive Title X funding.

News of the proposed rule was released on May 22, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially released its notice of proposed rulemaking on Tuesday. The notice is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Friday to begin the official open comment period.

Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, founded in 1973, is the only provider in the state that both provides abortion services and also receives Title X funding, according to Susan Buchanan, its executive director and CEO. By law, abortion services already cannot be tied to federal or state funding.

The center’s total budget is $2.66 million, rounded out by Medicaid and other health insurance payments, local government grants, state funding and private donations.

The federal funding is what allows the center to provide services, other than abortion, on a sliding scale based on patients’ income, according to Buchanan.

“It will hurt low-income people in Boulder County and in Longmont,” she said of the proposed change.

If the proposal were approved, Buchanan said that Boulder Valley would “have to make a very hard choice,” while also working with the state to see if there is a way around the rule or an option beyond the ultimatum.

It would be difficult to stop offering abortion services due to the clinic’s history as the first in the state to offer them, Buchanan said, although only 10 percent of Boulder Valley’s patients use its abortion services. It also provides breast exams, annual exams and contraceptives, among other services.

Other clinics — including some run by government public health agencies such as the Reproductive Health Clinic in Broomfield — would be impacted by what Buchanan calls the “gag rule.”

The Broomfield Department of Health and Human Services didn’t comment on the proposed rule change.

While more than 60 Title X clinics in Colorado don’t offer abortion services, they do provide family planning services — part of which is talking with people about their options. Under the proposed rule, they would not be allowed to refer women to those who offer abortions.

“It’s exactly the opposite of what the Title X guidelines have historically said, which is that we are required to present all options during counseling,” Buchanan said.

If the proposed rule is approved, which Buchanan believes is a strong possibility, she said “there’s no question” that it will increase the abortion rate.

Buchanan pointed to past state initiatives that took away the cost barrier from more effective contraceptives, and how both the teen pregnancy rate and the abortion rate in Colorado dropped significantly afterward.

If clinics lose the funding they use to make contraceptives more affordable to low-income people, unintended pregnancy rates will rise, she said.

“It is so counterintuitive to use the Title X program to try to make some impact on abortion,” she said. “We are making an impact on abortion. There’s a reason only 10 percent of our clients are here for abortions.”

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com