The federal government is trying to change the rules on how millions of people across the country access reproductive and preventive healthcare. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services closed the official comment period to respond to its proposed rule change around Title X, the nation’s only federal family planning program.
The proposed “domestic gag rule” would do three things: First, it would impose new rules that are designed to make it impossible for patients to get birth control or preventive care from reproductive healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood. Second, under this rule, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and community health centers across the country would no longer be able to refer their patients for safe, legal abortion. Third, it removes the guarantee that you’re getting full and accurate information about your healthcare from your doctor. For nearly two decades, Title X law has been clear: Health care providers cannot withhold information from you about your pregnancy options. This rule means they can.
This is the Trump administration’s latest attempt to dismantle reproductive rights. They have already tried to weaken the Affordable Care Act’s mandatory birth control coverage by allowing employers to claim a religious or moral exemption, and nominated two Supreme Court justices who would likely overturn Roe v. Wade. But despite the administration’s attempts to pass this off as an innocuous regulatory revision, we must call this out for what it actually is: a serious threat to health and human rights. If these rules go into effect, the 150,000 New Yorkers who rely on Title X services each year could lose access to healthcare.
Recently, a group of elected officials, city agency representatives, and Title X providers and patients came together in the Office of Public Advocate to talk about what this rule change could mean for New York City. A patient at Planned Parenthood of New York City named Rhea shared her story: She was uninsured when her pap smear came back abnormal and showed pre-cancerous cells. Because of Title X, she was able to get treated at Planned Parenthood and pay for these critical medical services through a sliding scale option. She, among many others, submitted comments to the federal government against the gag rule, saying, “I want Planned Parenthood to be there for other people when they are scared, need medical services and need peace of mind even if they don't have insurance or steady income.”
No patient should ever have to worry if their provider is telling them complete and honest information about all their health care options. Under the gag rule, providers can put their personal ideology above the health and safety of their patients, choosing to omit options like birth control or abortion in favor of abstinence or adoption. This amounts to censorship, which not only affects the lives and personal choices of patients, but also amounts to a violation of the ethical obligations of medical providers. In this environment, crisis pregnancy centers, or unlicensed sham clinics that provide false information about reproductive healthcare, could proliferate and make it even more difficult for patients to receive objective counseling and treatment.
We must remain vigilant and monitor the insidious policy actions of this administration, which are designed to fundamentally change our society and roll back our rights. In times like these, we must use every tool at our disposal - every public comment period, every opportunity to vote - to voice our discontent and to resist. The midterm elections are just three months away, and the outcome will affect how far the Trump administration can take their agenda. It is imperative that we call on our legislators and hold them accountable to push back on the Title X gag rule and the Kavanaugh nomination, while supporting our local sexual and reproductive healthcare centers, like Planned Parenthood of New York City, that are helping to keep us safe and healthy. We are committed to continuing to build towards a New York City where every person has access to the health care they need to lead a dignified life - we hope you join us.
Letitia James is the public advocate for the city of New York and Laura McQuade is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. The views expressed here are their own.