Since 1970, the Title X federal family planning program has provided much-needed funding for reproductive health care for millions of patients around the country. With bipartisan support, Congress enacted Title X to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and break the cycle of poverty ensnaring women who were unable to pay for contraception.
Title X reduced unintended pregnancy by ensuring that all women would have access to FDA-approved birth control methods – regardless of their income. Before Title X was enacted, access to birth control was largely a privilege for urban middle and upper class women. Title X ensured birth control access was also available for low-income women and available in rural communities.
On August 22, the state of Washington was forced to withdraw from the federal Title X program because of new rules put in place by the Trump administration. These new rules require Title X providers to deprive patients of information and services that are necessary for them to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. The new rules prohibit a health provider from telling their patients how and where they can access abortion safely and legally; and they prevent patients from getting full and accurate information about all of their options.
Those who agree with the state of Washington and have condemned this new rule include the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Physicians. They know how important Title X is to improving public health, and they will not stand by as this administration tries to silence health care providers.
In short, the Gag Rule has nothing to do with health care and everything to do with politics. Still, it is especially an insult to Washington – where we are a leading example of how Title X works to make our communities healthier.
91,284 patients received care through Title X in 2017 and more than half of these patients were at or below the federal poverty line. Planned Parenthood plays an important role in family planning in Washington state, serving 88% of these patients. This new rule leaves 21 Washington counties without a Title X provider, and 11 of those counties are in Eastern Washington.
As a result of this new rule, more patients will have to travel hundreds of miles to receive family planning care, while others will completely lose access. The Washington Department of Health estimates that Title X prevented over 18,000 unintended pregnancies annually, resulting in savings for the state of more than $113 million. There is already a massive divide between who does and doesn’t have care in our region, with communities of color, LGBTQ and rural patients getting hit the hardest by this rule.
This is unacceptable and we believe all people have the right to access health care.
Planned Parenthood is proud of Washington state’s decision to stand up for ethical health care. We will not withhold critical information from our patients, and we believe in a strong commitment to ethical patient care. It’s not the government’s business to tell patients what information they are allowed to have based on an extremist agenda.
The fight isn’t over. On September 23rd, the 9th Circuit will begin rehearing our case against the administration. In addition, Congress has until September 30th to pass a spending bill – the House of Representatives already voted in favor of protective language for Title X so now it will be up the Senate, and we thank Sen. Patty Murray for championing this effort.
Taking away access to care and silencing health care providers should not be a political strategy. Our communities deserve better. Please continue to voice your concerns over extremist public health policies and implore your elected officials to vote to preserve access to family planning services through the Title X program.
Karl Eastlund is chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho
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