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New federal plan could cut funding for Alaska’s Planned Parenthood facilities

This article has been updated.

WASHINGTON — A proposed new regulation from the Trump administration could cut funding to Alaska's seven Planned Parenthood facilities.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule this week to alter the status of "Title X" grants that provide funding to family planning clinics, such as Planned Parenthood.

The new rule would limit who could receive funding in a way that requires those that get grants not counsel their patients on receiving abortions. That would mean that Alaska's four Planned Parenthood facilities — in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Soldotna and Juneau — would become ineligible for the federal grants. The Alaska facilities currently receive more than $1 million per year in Title X grant funding, according to Katie Rogers, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.

President Donald Trump announced the proposed rule at a fundraiser for the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List organization.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who parts with her colleagues in the congressional delegation on abortion, said she was worried that the provision could "further limit critical access to heatlhcare services."

"I have a long-held belief that men and women should have access to the family planning and reproductive health services they need, including early cancer diagnosis and health screenings," Murkowski said.

The administration's proposal does not represent "the direction we should be moving," she said. "I've been encouraged that this administration has focused on deregulation and less government interference, generally, but this announcement is quite the opposite."

The rule will block healthcare providers "from being able to fully counsel their patients without government interference," Murkowski said.

More than 8,000 Alaskans avail themselves of family planning services at facilities funded by Title X grants, according to HHS.

Many of them are in rural areas.

That worries Murkowski, she said, noting that some towns only have TItle X grantees offering "family planning services at an affordable rate. This move could result in doors closing, or limiting access, which will force patients to drive hundreds of miles to the next nearest clinic– if there is a road to the next clinic."

The senator said she plans to work to find a way to make sure Alaskans continue to have access to health care.

Planned Parenthood has characterized the proposal as a "gag rule" meant to prevent doctors from talking to their patients about abortions. "The result of this gag rule is that people will not get the health care or information they need. They won't get birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, or even general women's health exams," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, an area that includes Alaska.

Planned Parenthood health centers make up 13 percent of the Title X grant health centers in the country, but serve 41 percent of patients that get care through the program, according to Charbonneau. Abortion represents 3 percent of the group's total services, for about 10 percent of its clients, according to the organization.

HHS will accept public comment for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.

Note: This story previously misstated the number of Planned Parenthood facilities open in Alaska. There are four, not five. The Planned Parenthood clinic in Sitka closed in 2014.