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Gov. Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts is welcomed into the Norris Chamber by state senators before his State of the State address in January at the Capitol.

The federal government has awarded a three-year, $6 million Title X grant to the Family Planning Council of Nebraska.

That grant in the past has gone to the state Department of Health and Human Services to distribute family planning funds to local community health clinics and organizations throughout Nebraska that apply for the money.

This year, the Family Planning Council of Nebraska, which has never applied for the Title X grant, applied directly for the funds after Gov. Pete Ricketts put a provision into the Nebraska state budget document limiting the use of the funds and the family planning clinics that could receive them, said Family Planning Council spokeswoman Marj Plumb.

The budget battle last year caused by Ricketts' Title X provision, and another potential one this year, was disheartening to the Family Planning Council and many of its providers, Plumb said.

"So we decided that we wanted to prioritize health care over politics," she said, "and get the Legislature back to debating what it should be debating, which is the budget for the state of Nebraska."

She said the Family Planning Council, a nonprofit established in 1991, is looking forward to making sure all Nebraskans have access to quality, affordable family planning services.

Jane Rogers, board chairwoman of the Family Planning Council of Nebraska, said Nebraskans have a decades-long history of investing in family planning care through the Title X program. But the Ricketts provision took family planning services away from thousands of Nebraskans, she said.

“That can be devastating to the health of those who turn to this program for care — for some of whom it is their only source of health care. We’re putting Nebraskans first — and prioritizing health over politics,” Rogers said.

In prior years, the money funded services for approximately 28,000 Nebraskans each year, including birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, services for survivors of sexual assault, and well-woman exams. The services also help people both achieve and prevent pregnancy.

Taylor Gage, speaking on Ricketts' behalf, said: “The governor appreciates the Legislature’s work over the past two years to ensure that organizations that perform or counsel for abortion do not receive Title X dollars. He will continue to support the Trump administration’s work to keep Title X dollars out of the hands of abortion providers.”

Federal regulations historically have prohibited the use of Title X family planning funds for abortion services, and did not fund abortions in Nebraska, Plumb said.

There was some controversy about that when a 2014-15 state audit showed abortion services by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland were mixed into Title X funding. The audit raised questions about whether HHS had adequate monitoring procedures to ensure payments were for allowable services.

Last year, a provision was inserted into the state budget that, after some state senators hammered out a compromise, allowed family planning clinics to refer patients for abortions only in emergency situations, in which a physician determined a pregnancy would cause death or serious impairment of a woman's physical function. It allowed most Title X clinics to continue providing essential reproductive services to low-income men and women.

But Planned Parenthood got none of the Title X funding, and still won't because of a new federal regulation finalized this month by the Trump administration.

With last year's compromise on the Ricketts provision, neutral, factual, nondirective information about prenatal care, delivery and pregnancy termination would not constitute a referral for abortion. But legal, physical and financial separation was required between a federally qualified clinic and an affiliated clinic that provided abortions.

The new federal regulation says a Title X recipient must have objective integrity and independence, but does not call specifically for legal, physical and financial separation.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will run from April 1 to March 31, 2022.

Plumb said the council's No. 1 priority will be to ensure "every single penny" from the federal grant is given to family planning providers for those services in Nebraska.

Plumb said application information for providers will be available on the council's website: nefamilyplanning.org/

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