Baker Blasts Trump on Abortion Barriers
By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Gov. Charlie Baker urged the Trump administration on Monday to back off its plan to cut federal funding to family planning clinics that provide abortion services, arguing that the new regulation would “enact unnecessary barriers to a woman’s right to choose.”
Baker, a pro-choice Republican, wrote a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to take issue with a proposed new rule governing Title X, a $286 million federal program that supports family planning and preventive health services.
The state’s Department of Public Health also submitted its detailed objections to the rule as part of the public comment period before the rule would take effect. Baker said the federal funds have been critical to providing low-income residents with preventative health care services, such as counseling, physical exams, contraception, HIV/STD testing and reproductive cancer screenings.
“The Baker-Polito Administration fully supports access to women’s reproductive health care and family planning services. It is our firm position that the proposed rule should be rescinded in its entirety,” Baker wrote.
In the past, Baker has said that the state would make up for any funding lost by Republican attempts in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. Asked about his position Monday afternoon, Baker said, “I’m sure they’ll get a lot of comments from a lot of people that sound a lot like ours and I hope that they do take them back.”
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts said there were 66,072 patients in Massachusetts that received care in 2016 as a result of Title X funding, and last year Title X was responsible for delivering $6,155,000 to 93 family planning and sexual health clinics across the state. In addition to Planned Parenthood, Action for Boston Community Development Inc., Health Imperatives Inc., Health Quarters Inc., and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are direct grant recipients under Title X.
The governor’s letter defending women’s access to abortion services comes just days after the Legislature sent to his desk a bill that would repeal old and unenforced laws still on the books in Massachusetts banning abortion and access to contraception for unmarried women.
The bill was passed amid heightened concern among Democrats that the historic Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide could be threatened by ideological shifts on the Supreme Court under President Trump. Baker, who is running for re-election this fall, reaffirmed his commitment to sign the “archaic” abortion law repeal bill.
Governing in the Trump era, Baker has repeatedly been drawn into conflict with the president of his own party, for whom he did not vote. The governor last week admonished Trump as “disgraceful” for his performance at a Helsinki press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding Russian election interference.
The proposed new Title X rules would require abortion services be offered in a physically separate facility from family planning clinics and eliminate a requirement that caregivers counsel patients on the range of family planning options, including abortion.
The Trump administration pitched the new rule as a way to “ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions.”
Baker wrote that every woman deserves “to be provided with the information necessary to make an informed and non-coerced decision” about her health and family.
“Patients deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to receive comprehensive, medically-accurate information,” Baker wrote.
Senate President Harriette Chandler, in response to a question, said she believes Baker’s defense of a woman’s right to choose is authentic, and not motivated by re-election politics. But she said the best way he can show that would be to sign the so-called “Nasty Women Act,” repealing the state’s unenforced anti-abortion laws.
“I think he’s been a good friend to people who really treasure abortion rights and we’ll have to see. Hopefully, he will sign the Nasty Women legislation and we will have law to show just how much of a friend he is,” Chandler said.
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts President Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak said Baker was right in “standing up to the Trump-Pence administration’s dangerous political interference in people’s health and for defending the most basic medical ethics.”
“Governor Baker rightly recognizes that, if implemented, this proposed gag rule will create unnecessary barriers to care for the people of Massachusetts,” Childs-Roshak said.