This past Friday the Trump-Pence Administrations divulged that the US Department of Health and Human Services’ revised Title X regulations. The new version of Title X is intended to improve transparency in regard to program reporting and the direction of fund allocations while simultaneously improving preventative measures taken towards sexual abuse, incest, rape, child abuse, child molestation and intimate partner violence. Unfortunately, while economic transparency will be established, doctor-patient transparency, honesty and trust will be deeply obscured. The alterations to Title X impose regulations that prevent patients from receiving care at publicly funded family planning providers and administrators whose services include abortion. Moreover, it will legally “gag” health care providers who receive funding from Title X. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and community health centers will be restrained from referring their patients for safe and legal abortion and disallowed to discuss the full range of options. Any assurance that patients are receiving comprehensive and inclusive care will be compromised, in so facilitating an environment for unethical care to advance.
The Title X Family Planning Program, established in 1970, provides federal funding for family planning and other related health services that assist low-income or uninsured families. According to an article put out by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, "of the four million people Title X serves, two-thirds live under the federal poverty level and nearly half lack insurance”. Planned Parenthood relies heavily on Title X to be able to extend the plethora of services they provide including— cancer screenings, pelvic exams, STD testing and treatment, rape crisis counseling referrals, patient education, general health care for those across the gender spectrum, birth control, abortion services and referrals, and HIV services.
The concept of a “Gag Rule” is no new notion. In fact, it dates all the way back to the abolitionist movement of the 1830s. Let us take a quick walk through history— In the early 1830s the American Anti-Slavery Society began to distribute petitions to Congress in a call to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, but by May of 1836 the House passed the “Gag Rule”, ensuring that all petitions from anti-slavers be “tabled”, meaning that they could be presented, but not read, and therefore no action could be taken in regard to them. In a reaction to this, former President John Quincy Adams, a member of the House of Representatives at the time (and a self-proclaimed non-abolitionist) lead the rebuttal of the “Gag Rule” on the grounds that it “violated the constitutional right to petition- - a right which extended to even slaves”.
Nearly two centuries later, action to defund Planned Parenthood is a threatening mere 60 days (from the time it is published in the Federal Register) away, and our government persists in its marginalization of minority groups. According to Planned Parenthood statistics, “about 21 percent of Title X patients identify as Black or African American and 32 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino”. The reworking of Title X and all that it includes widens the already broad gap in health care services between white and non-white patients, and other minority groups historically neglected by our government. By denying and barring vulnerable patients from services in the regulated health care system, it re-exposes often distressed and desperate individuals to the dangers of unregulated care and a lack of care. Often these at-risk populations are forced to go through extenuating and dangerous lengths to receive unregulated care, such as illegal or at-home abortions.
In response, Planned Parenthood has devised an open letter to “those intent on taking away our rights and health care”. I urge each and every one of you to read more on this issue and take action: Protect Title X and Sign the Open Letter.