President Donald Trump has made it clear he wants women who get abortions to be punished. This, in itself, is abhorrent. Worse, proposed federal rules aimed at making abortions harder to get would also punish millions of women who don’t want to get pregnant or who simply need preventative health care.
At their core, the proposed changes to Title X, the federal family planning program, are about making it harder for women to get abortions. But, the consequences also affect family planning and women’s health care in general. They are especially harmful for low-income women who may rely on federally funded programs rather than private medical care.
That’s why the rule changes, like similar ones proposed nearly 30 years ago, should be stopped.
Under the proposed changes, health providers that participate in the federally funded program could not talk with women about abortion. In Maine, this affects Maine Family Planning and Planned Parenthood, both of which provide a full range of family planning services as well as other health care screenings at numerous facilities across the state.
The proposed rule says: “A Title X project may not perform, promote, refer for, or support, abortion as a method of family planning, nor take any other affirmative action to assist a patient to secure such an abortion.”
If a woman comes to such a facility for an abortion or clearly states she wants an abortion, she should be given “a list of licensed, qualified comprehensive health service providers (some, but not all, of which also provide abortion, in addition to comprehensive prenatal care.)” The abortion providers cannot be identified as such.
No other health care services are restricted like this. If a man or women requires surgery or cancer treatment or another medical service, a doctor, nurse, dentist or other medical provider discusses who can provide this service and often recommends a provider based on their quality of service, location or other criteria.
Imagine being told you have cancer and simply being given a list of local doctors, many of whom don’t even treat cancer. This is what the Department of Health and Human Services is saying should be given to women who want or need an abortion.
Women, it should be remembered, have a constitutionally protected right to abortions. Requiring providers to withhold information violates that right. Worse, medical providers are being told to violate their oath to help their patients by withholding information that the patient needs.
Title X funds cannot be used to cover the cost of abortion, but many grant recipients do provide abortions, which are funded through other sources. Abortions account for a tiny fraction of the services Maine’s Title X recipients provide. To continue to provide abortions or information and referrals about abortions, providers would need “a bright line of physical as well as financial separation” between these and other services. What this means is not defined in the proposed rule. Instead it is left up to the DHHS secretary. The costs of complying with such a restriction could force some clinics to close or sell their family planning and abortion services, which is probably what the Trump administration wants.
The proposed rule also undermines contraception. Current rules requires that Title X grant recipients provide a full range of family planning services, including contraception. The proposed rule does not require that contraception be included. This is counterproductive. The best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which are the primary reason for an abortion, is through the use of contraceptives.
These proposed rule changes are extreme and unnecessary, and they will harm women who simply want to remain healthy. They should not be implemented.
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