STRIKE: Proposed changes to Title X constitute a gag rule on healthcare providers

New Trump administration rules for Title X represent an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to choose

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Under the new rules, any healthcare provider which provides abortions or abortion referrals would be barred from receiving funds from Title X.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Despite massive outcry from the American people and against the recommendation of the American Medical Association, the Trump administration just published its final draft of rule changes to Title X — the government’s family planning program. First established in 1970, Title X serves as both a funding mechanism for healthcare providers and as a set of guidelines which providers should follow with regards to informing patients about all their healthcare options. Funding goes towards contraceptive care, pregnancy prevention, STI testing and lifesaving cancer screenings — funding does not go to abortion services. In fact, Title X specifically forbids that. Title X is an essential part of the structure of reproductive healthcare in this country, and these new attacks from the Trump administration serve no purpose other than to punish providers and the women they care for. 

Under the new rules, any healthcare provider which provides abortions or abortion referrals would be barred from receiving funds from Title X. Requirements which state Title X providers must offer counseling on all family planning methods would be eliminated. Funds from the program would also be redirected toward faith-based “clinics” — religious institutions disguised as legitimate healthcare clinics, which prey on vulnerable patients and force their own ideologies onto people in need of non-biased and quality healthcare. 

In effect, the administration is forcing healthcare providers to choose between informing patients of all their options or losing their Title X funding. Doctors are being silenced and the Trump administration is gagging them. 

In Virginia, the Department of Health and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic are the two Title X grantees — meaning they receive funding from the program. According to the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Virginia is home to over 56,000 Title X patients, and 60 percent of them live below the federal poverty line. These patients rely on Title X funds for their reproductive healthcare services, and the Trump administration is holding their care hostage. 

The threat of losing care isn’t unique to Virginia. Nationwide, there are over 4 million Title X patients, and 78 percent of them live below the federal poverty line. Planned Parenthood, while accounting for only 13 percent of clinics which receive Title X funding, provides care to over 40 percent of Title X patients. Millions of women and men — yes, men — are at risk of losing their healthcare. Such disregard of the effectiveness of the services provided under Title X would prove disastrous to the state of reproductive healthcare in this country. 

The changes to Title X are especially harmful to patients of color. According to a 2017 report from the Department of Health and Human Services, 33 percent of Title X patients identify as Latinx, and 22 percent as African American. It is impossible to separate the risk of losing their healthcare from the other actions this administration has taken to target and harm people of color — like the calls for a border wall and rampant voter suppression. Research has shown that the barriers to healthcare which many women of color face —  including the new barriers imposed by proposed Title X changes — have often resulted in delayed diagnoses, higher rates of cervical cancer and increased mortality rates. This is why the services provided by Title X, like birth control, STI testing and cancer screenings, are so essential. Without them, people of color and people with low incomes will be pushed back into the shadows of the American healthcare system. Their care will be harmed — their lives will be put at risk. We won’t — we can’t — go back. 

Title X is integral in ensuring access to quality and affordable healthcare for millions of individuals nationwide. The Trump administration’s changes to Title X will prevent access to care and will reduce the availability of low-cost services like contraceptives, STI testing and lifesaving cancer screenings. These changes target healthcare providers who protect the constitutional right of choice, and by extension, target women and people of color. We all have a responsibility to save Title X, oppose this gag rule and protect healthcare access for all.

Noah Strike is a first-year student in the College and is the Co-President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at U.Va.

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