SPRINGFIELD — Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness, the only Illinois organization currently participating in the federal family planning program, was awarded more than double its initial grant after several providers across the country declined their funding in response to a Trump administration rule change.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees the Title X program. It announced on Sept. 30 the allocation of an additional $33.6 million to 50 grantees in several states to buttress their family planning services.
The funding became available, the department said in press release, after 18 organizations “left the Title X program rather than comply with statutory and regulatory requirements prohibiting federal funding where abortion is a method of family planning.”
Raul Garza, Aunt Martha’s president and CEO, said the provider’s new grant amount is more than $1.3 million. That is an increase of $825,000.
Aunt Martha’s will use the money to expand services — including wellness exams, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and birth control — to several of its facilities, Garza said, allowing its medical personnel to treat “more than double the number of patients we’re able to serve now.”
“No one else (in Illinois) applied, so family planning services would not be available to thousands of women,” he said. “That’s not an exaggeration. That’s a fact.”
Garza added that health care providers previously offering Title X services through contracts with the Illinois Department of Public Health have “reached out” to Aunt Martha’s about working with them instead.
“We definitely want to do that because we want to honor the work they were doing before this all happened,” he said. “Those are areas we’re not in anyway, and we don’t want to deprive those areas of these services.”
Aunt Martha’s announced in mid-July it would forgo $500,000 in federal Title X funding after the state’s other two recipients — Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the Department of Public Health — made statements calling the family planning program’s revised regulations “unethical.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, in part, does not allow medical professionals who work at clinics that accept Title X grants to “perform, promote, or support” abortion procedures.
On Aug. 23, Aunt Martha’s reversed its decision due to clarification it received from HHS that staff can tell pregnant women they have three options — to carry the pregnancy to term, give the baby up for adoption or terminate the pregnancy — and answer any follow-up questions, but cannot give a referral to an abortion facility.
“Referral for abortion as a method of family planning is not permitted, because the statute written by Congress prohibits funding programs where abortion is a method of family planning,” according to the agency’s website.
Garza said the HHS official’s explanation of the policy change helped Aunt Martha’s executives and clinical staff members comfortable with the decision to rejoin the family planning program, and apply for additional funding.
“I think what was in our minds or our hearts, even, was how do we get these services to women and families that need them, because it’s not just about the one option — it’s not just about terminating a pregnancy,” Garza said. “It’s also about all the other options that we’re able to offer, and as long as we knew we could offer those, then we felt pretty good about it, and we felt that it was the right thing to do, so that’s what we committed to.”
Aunt Martha’s is an integrated health care provider. Besides family planning services, its facilities also offer dental, ambulatory, obstetrics and mental health services. It does not offer abortion services.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois declined $3.5 million, and the Department of Public Health, under Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s direction declined $4 million in Title X grant funding. Even with the increased grant Aunt Martha’s was awarded, Illinois family planning facilities are receiving $6.7 million less than they otherwise would have received in federal dollars.