By Sari Stevens
The Trump administration has released its final rule for changes to Title X – the nation’s family planning program.
Originally started in the Nixon administration and approved nearly unanimously by Congress at that time, Title X provides access to cancer screenings, birth control, and other family planning services for those who otherwise would not be able to afford it. Title X does not allow those that receive Title X funds to provide abortions with those funds.
No more. In a dangerous and drastic departure, the Trump administration is setting out to deprive millions of Americans – and tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians – of basic and reproductive health care.
No longer can doctors in the Title X program follow their oaths and ethics.
It is now illegal for health care providers in the Title X program to talk about — let alone refer — patients for abortion. Under this new rule, it will be impossible for Planned Parenthood to continue participating in Title X because of our commitment to ethical patient care and the belief that, when empowered with information, our patients will make the decisions that are best for them.
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We refuse to lie to or omit information from our patients who have come to rely on the high-quality, non-judgmental care that Planned Parenthood has been providing for over 100 years.
Further evidence of the Trump-Pence Administration’s obsession with eliminating access to Planned Parenthood and abortion services can be found in the rule’s new separation requirements.
Despite the fact that Tile X already bars its funds from being used for abortion services, the rule also imposes cost prohibitive and unnecessary “physical separation” requirements on health centers that also provide abortion in an effort to stop Planned Parenthood from participating in Title X.
These requirements could include forcing health centers to build separate entrances and exits, construct new health centers, or hire a second staff of doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. None of these requirements contribute to the health of patients.
Make no mistake: this rule change is nothing but a direct attack on the patients who rely on the Title X program.
The irony of taking away family planning services in the name of reducing abortion is startling.
What does this administration think will happen when millions of women lose access to family planning services? More unintended pregnancies. More maternal mortality. More abortions, not fewer. Higher costs to tax payers everywhere when cancer goes undetected, STIs go untreated, and unintended pregnancy is not prevented.
This rule change is especially cruel as efforts to block Planned Parenthood from critical health care programs like Title X would hurt communities that already face systemic barriers to accessing health care, including people of color, people with low incomes, and rural communities. The majority of patients in the Title X program identify as people of color, Hispanic, or Latino.
Nearly 50 percent of Planned Parenthood’s health centers are in medically underserved areas of Pennsylvania. More than 70 percent of counties served by Planned Parenthood already have serious health provider shortages. Even when there are other providers available, they often don’t have the capacity to serve additional patients. Community health centers themselves say there is no way they could fill the gap.
Major medical associations like the American Medical Association, National Medical Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, and others stand against this rule.
More than 200 members of Congress and 100 public health organizations have come out in opposition to a “gag” rule. And, when it was announced, more than 500,000 Americans voiced their opposition by submitting comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Voters made it clear during the 2018 midterms: they want more access to health care, not less. This destructive rule to dismantle Title X takes critical health care away from patients who need it and censors health care providers.
The health, rights, and lives of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians are hanging in the balance due to this cruel and destructive regulation. The people of Pennsylvania and this country deserve better from their elected officials than having affordable health care options taken away.
Sari Stevens is the executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. She writes from Harrisburg, Pa.