Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Cambridge Health Alliance employee runs through a contraception presentation in 2014. (Photo: Cambridge Health Alliance)

Proposed changes in federal funding for family planning could affect the reproductive health program at Cambridge Health Alliance, which provides contraception, pregnancy tests and counseling and other sexual health services for adults and teenagers in Cambridge, Somerville, Malden, Everett and Revere.

In the nine months leading up to March 30 – the most recent figures showing demand for family planning at the Alliance – there were 860 visits for reproductive health services to Alliance sites. That was far higher than the 394 visits predicted in its budget for the year.

Changes introduced this spring by the administration of President Donald Trump would bar federally funded programs from referring patients to abortion providers and change the criteria for choosing grant recipients. Planned Parenthood and other family planning organizations have said the changes to Title X funding, which supports family planning programs nationwide, including Planned Parenthood, other community clinics and many hospital-based programs. are aimed at restricting access to abortion and promoting abstinence and “natural” contraception over more effective methods.

“We are concerned about the potential effect on women’s access to health care and education but will not speculate on the impact or on how CHA will respond until the actual proposed changes are finalized and published,” Cambridge Health Alliance spokesman David Cecere said, asked about the impact of preventing referrals to abortion providers. It could take months to finalize the rules banning clinics from referring clients, though new guidance for awarding grants is already in place. 

The Alliance is “closely monitoring” the proposed changes, Cecere said.

Planned Parenthood has sued federal officials to overturn the criteria for distributing grants, and a federal judge is considering whether to block it while the suit is heard. The government is seeking to dismiss the suit.

According to a federal directory, Cambridge Health Alliance gets Title X funds for services at 13 locations including health clinics for students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Somerville High School and Malden High School. Like other programs supported by Title X, family planning programs also offer services such as testing for pregnancy, venereal diseases and HIV, emergency contraception and counseling on sexual health. Pregnant women may be offered information about options including abortion, although there has long been a ban on federal funding of abortions themselves.

Naral Pro-Choice Massachusetts, the major organization in the state supporting abortion rights, lists the Alliance as an abortion provider. In addition to providing surgical abortions, doctors can terminate a pregnancy by prescribing two drugs; physicians must be certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to perform a medical abortion.

Title X funds are directed toward serving low-income women. MassHealth, or Medicaid, covers family planning services for many poor women; the Title X program can fill the gap for patients without insurance or those who can’t afford a copay.

Cecere said the Alliance “will continue to work with state and federal legislators and partner with other community programs to advocate on behalf of our patients and their families.”