Says it can abide by new guidelines on abortion referrals without impacting service
By REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness, one of Illinois’ three family planning organizations, confirmed it will accept federal funds it previously declined because its medical providers are now confident they can comply with new federal rules.
The organization announced in mid-July it would forgo its slated $500,000 Title X grant after the state’s two other recipients — Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Public Health — made statements calling the family planning program’s revised regulations “unethical.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees the Title X program and drafted the rules. In part, they do not allow medical professionals who work at clinics that accept family planning funding to “perform, promote, or support” abortion procedures.
Audrey Pennington, Aunt Martha’s chief operating officer, said the organization’s medical providers had concerns the rule would “interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.” Their program liaison offered to connect Aunt Martha’s clinical team and executives with an official from HHS who could clarify answers to “four or five very detailed questions” their team had.
“We know the services are so necessary in the communities that we serve, so it was very, very hard and difficult to decide that we could no longer provide those services based on some of those guidelines,” Pennington said. “We needed to know down to the very details. I needed to know because I want to be compliant.”
From that conversation, they learned medical providers can tell pregnant women they have three options — to carry the pregnancy to term, give the baby up for adoption or terminate the pregnancy, she said. The medical provider is able to answer any follow-up questions a patient asks, Pennington added, but cannot give a referral to an abortion facility.
“When we were able to get the clarification, we were obviously certainly happy to continue those services, because they’re very, very necessary in the community and just a tremendous resource for educating the public and having patients really have the power to control when they decide to have children,” she said.
Aunt Martha’s is an integrated health care provider. Besides family planning services, its facilities also offer dental, ambulatory and obstetrics services. It does not offer abortion services.
“Aunt Martha’s believes that it is the sacred duty of its healthcare providers to provide its patients with all the healthcare information at their disposal – so that patients are equipped to make critical healthcare decisions regarding their reproductive health,” according to a press release. “Continuing to provide premium healthcare services, including information on all available healthcare options, to our patients is something Aunt Martha’s will never compromise.”
Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the Department of Public Health, under Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s direction, are still declining their Title X grants, worth $3.5 million and $4 million, respectively.