Reproductive rights have been a contentious subject in this country since the 18th century. Throughout history, policies around these rights have reflected the most prominent social norms, religious beliefs, activism and politics of the time. The past few years have been no different. In February of 2019, the Trump Administration cut federal funding to all services within sexual health clinics that also performed abortion services and referrals, even though abortion services were already exempt from federal funding. This stripped many clinics like Planned Parenthood from essential Title X funding, which their patients rely on for sexual health services. It is unjust to take away federal funding from people who seek basic healthcare.
Title X was established in 1970 to help patients receive cheaper and more effective family planning and sexual health services. It provides wellness exams, cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control, contraceptive education, sexually-transmitted disease testing and HIV testing to people who would not be able to afford it on their own. According to Planned Parenthood and Bozeman’s own Bridgercare, over four million people rely on Title X funding every year. Planned Parenthood also says that Title X helps to “ensure that every person — regardless of where they live, how much money they make, their background, or whether or not they have health insurance — has access to basic, preventive reproductive health care.”
However, a gag rule was put on Title X last year, preventing many medical clinics from receiving Title X funding if they provided abortion services. This decision was supported by the Republican Party and is still reflected in their agenda. On the 37th page of the 2020 GOP agenda, the party argues that Americans, “should not be forced to fund abortion” and calls for “a permanent ban on federal funding and subsidies for abortion and healthcare plans that include abortion coverage.”
Although these arguments seem well-founded, they are misleading. Since its inception, Title X funding has not covered abortion services. The National Abortion Federation outlines in “Abortion and Title X: What Health Care Providers Need to Know” that Section 1008 of the Title X law prohibits its funds from being used for abortion. Instead, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research institute, Title X enables one million women to avoid unwanted pregnancies each year by providing educational services along with reproductive health help. That is one million chances of abortion that Title X funds were able to eliminate.
Without Title X funding, medical clinics and the people they serve are finding themselves stranded. Bridgercare explains that “In Montana, [the Title X Gag Rule] means that providers can no longer tell a patient where they can access an abortion – no full disclosure.” Although Bridgercare has chosen to stay with Title X despite the gag rule, its funding was cut by 50%, which comes out to a $150,000 loss. It is unjust to make clinics decide between being able to fully disclose information to their clients and giving their clients financial support.
Other clinics have chosen to stop taking the funding completely so they can fully inform their patients on care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 25% of the 981 U.S. clinics receiving Title X funding left the Title X network due to this rule. Planned Parenthood is one such health center. In Utah, Planned Parenthood was the only Title X provider. Now, their patients have to pay a fee. This leaves patients, particularly low-income and minority women, with the terrible choice of paying for healthcare or paying for dinner.
Despite major drawbacks to the Title X Gag Rule, many people see it as a step in the right direction. Our country is very evenly split in regards to abortion rights. Statista, a statistics website, shows that about 48% of people are pro-choice, another 48% are pro-life, and the last 4% were either undecided or declined to answer. Many of the pro-lifers hope that the Title X Gag Rule will open up federal funding to religious clinics and others that advise women against abortions. New York Public Radio’s “Death, Sex, and Money” podcast interviewed one such person in an episode on Planned Parenthood. Mary, a middle-aged Catholic woman, was praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. She recounted that, “90 to 95 percent of the women I see go into this clinic are African American, and I think that’s a genocide. I was talking to one black woman who told me, she was in her 40s, she said she and every one of her friends has had an abortion. That to me is a tragedy. That’s a major, major tragedy.”
Some courts agree with Mary. On Feb. 24th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Planned Parenthood’s and the American Medical Association’s (AMA) attempt to sue the Trump Administration. The AMA had claimed that the gag rule was a “blatant violation of patients’ rights under the Code of Medical Ethics;” however, in a written statement about the 9th Circuit’s ruling, the U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Mollie Timmons argued that Title X was initially created to be separate from abortions and the recent rule, “makes a longstanding prohibition a reality.”
Although the Title X Gag Rule might have been enacted to save lives, it’s hurting vulnerable people by putting a financial premium on sexual health resources. The Title X Gag Rule needs to be reversed. It is our country's duty to support its people, and women are half of the people in this country. It is unjust to take access to sexual healthcare away on the grounds of abortion prevention when Title X never funded abortion. It places medical providers in the horrible position of choosing whether their patients get all the information they might need, or financial help. That is not justice for anyone.