Despite widespread and vocal opposition from the medical community and the American people, the Trump-Pence administration announced last week that it was circumventing Congress by placing a gag rule on health providers. This rule forbids providers from discussing abortion with their patients if they care for women while using funds from Title X, the nation’s 50-year-old reproductive health program.
This program was established in 1970 and, until recently, has had broad bipartisan support, because it is highly effective at broadly improving health outcomes, reducing unintended pregnancies and addressing health care needs, regardless of a patient’s economic status. It is widely recognized as one of the most successful public health programs of our time.
Thanks to Title X, in Minnesota alone a million women and men have been able to receive health care, including birth control, cancer screenings, treatment for STIs and other infections, and wellness exams. None of them, not one, received an abortion with these funds. That’s because Title X funds cannot be used to pay for abortions, and decades of external audits have always verified that they never have been. Planned Parenthood has been the single biggest deliverer of this health care here and across the country.
The imposition of the gag rule, an unprecedented and unconscionable move, accomplishes what the extreme right has been politically unsuccessful at doing — driving Planned Parenthood and other ethically based providers out of the program. This rule requires health care providers to accept a “gag” when it comes to answering questions or referring women for abortion, even if the patient’s life is at stake.
Patients always expect their health care providers to have integrity and to provide them with all of the information they need; Planned Parenthood has fulfilled this moral responsibility every day for 100 years. There is no other area of medicine in which politically or religiously motivated gags are applied to the doctor-patient relationship or are allowed to interfere with science-based medicine, nor should there be. Imagine if a physician was prohibited from discussing a blood transfusion, or a heart transplant, or insulin treatments. These things would never happen, and there is no medical or public-policy basis for treating reproductive health care any differently.
Title X was created to equalize access to reproductive health care, including modern methods of birth control, in order to give all women, regardless of their economic status, a chance for a full life. After the Trump-Pence gag rule takes effect, this chance will be available only to women of means, while poorer women will be forced to accept medieval choices that diminish their opportunity and degrade their autonomy.
Planned Parenthood will never accept a gag rule in exchange for money — to do so would undermine the century of trust that women have placed in us to always tell them the truth about their bodies and their medical options, and to provide them with the highest possible quality of science-based health care. That President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are seeking to force any health care practitioner to do otherwise is beyond deplorable.
Sarah Stoesz is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.