New cruel rule puts the lives of Rhode Island patients who rely on Title X funding at risk
Despite mass outcry from the medical community and American people, the Trump-Pence administration today released a final gag rule that undermines Title X, the nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, and makes it illegal for health care providers in the program to refer patients for an abortion. This puts health care at risk for 4 million patients nationally and keeps women from having information about all their health care options.
The administration has put health care providers like Planned Parenthood of Southern New England in an impossible position: withhold information from patients or get pushed out of a program designed to ensure that people struggling to make ends meet can still access birth control, STI testing, cancer screenings, and other essential reproductive health care. In Connecticut, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England serves more than 1,200 patients who are enrolled in the Title X program. This rule leaves their health, rights, and lives hanging in the balance.
“It has become obvious that this administration will stop at nothing to take away basic health care from the people who need it most,” said Amanda Skinner, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.
“A significant proportion of our Title X patients identify as members of racial or ethnic communities that often face significant health challenges due to systemic inequities—this administration is manipulating laws and regulations to deny immigrants, people of color, and people with low incomes access to vital, lifesaving health care services.
“The gag rule prevents health care providers from telling their patients how and where to access safe, legal abortion and forces doctors and nurses to mislead patients who are seeking care. It is time to stop political, racist and oppressive attacks—no one should have their basic health care taken away. Our doors will stay open, and we won’t stop fighting for our patients and the care they need.”
The rule also imposes cost prohibitive and unnecessary “physical separation” requirements on health centers that provide abortion services to stop Planned Parenthood from participating in Title X. These requirements could include forcing health centers to build separate entrances and exits, construct entirely new health centers, or hire a whole second staff of doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. None of these requirements contribute to positive health outcomes for patients.
In Rhode Island, 16 percent of Planned Parenthood’s Title X patients identify as Black or African American and 29 percent identify as Latinx. It is impossible to separate this attack on their health care from the other attacks this administration has leveled on families with low incomes and people of color—such as calls for a border wall, rampant voter suppression, and other attempts to “defund” Planned Parenthood.
For people of color, the right to bodily autonomy and quality health care has been consistently under attack throughout this country’s history, leading to huge disparities in health outcomes between women of color and white women. Dismantling Title X will limit health care options even further and worsen the massive disparity that already exists in health care.
This rule is opposed by the general public, the medical community, lawmakers, and public health experts. When the rule was announced, more than 500,000 Americans voiced their opposition by submitting comments to the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Major medical associations like the American Medical Association, National Medical Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, and others stand against this rule. In addition, more than 200 members of Congress and 100 public health organizations have come out in opposition to a gag policy.
“The gag rule is unconscionable and unethical. This rule compromises the oath that I took to serve patients and help them with making the best decision for their own health,” stated Dr Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Patients expect their doctors to speak honestly with them, to answer their questions, to help them in their time of need.
“Imagine if the Trump administration prevented doctors from talking to our patients with diabetes about insulin. It would never happen. Reproductive health care should be no different. Reproductive health care is health care and health care is a basic human right.”
There is no replacement for Planned Parenthood, as researchers, medical experts and other providers agree. This rule could put access to free or low-cost basic needs—like birth control, and STI or cancer screenings—out of reach for many underserved communities, including rural communities and many communities of color.
- In many communities, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of affordable reproductive health care or the only provider that offers specialized care like an IUD or the birth control shot.
- Even in areas where other providers are present, the providers often lack the pacity to serve additional patients. Community health centers themselves say there is no way they could fill the gap.
- In 2015, across the entire community center network, 40 percent of sites served fewer than 10 contraceptive patients annually.
Make no mistake—the gag rule is a cruel, direct attack on anyone who can’t afford the rising costs of health care. This is yet another tactic to deny people in Rhode Island and across the country access to essential services.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE) is one of the region’s largest providers of family planning and reproductive health care services. Since 1923, PPSNE has evolved into an organization with 17 health centers in Connecticut and Rhode Island, delivering care to 75,000 patients annually. For more than 95 years, PPSNE health centers provided a broad range of services, sexual health education, information and health counseling. Ninety percent of the services provided are preventive.