More than any other, two social issues have defined the conservative political agenda: no gun control and no abortions. A cynic might interpret this as conservatives being more concerned about the rights of fetuses than protecting children in our schools from getting shot — but let’s put that aside for the moment. Instead, let’s focus on the latest proposed effort by Donald Trump to trample on a woman’s reproductive freedom: a “gag rule” executive order (presumably so named because it will make you want to throw up).
Roe v. Wade still remains the law of the land. But this has not stopped conservatives from passing legislation and issuing executive actions that restrict access to abortions to a point that comes dangerously close to functionally negating the Supreme Court decision, including limiting abortions to the first few weeks of pregnancy, requiring pregnant women to visit so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (that strongly advocate against choice) before they can terminate a pregnancy – even outright, unconstitutional criminalization of abortion – and the list goes on.
At the federal level, the battle over reproductive rights has centered on Title X funding. Enacted when Nixon was President (when – ironically – many of the social programs under attack today were created), Title X provides funding for family planning services, especially targeted to low-income or uninsured patients. Under the currently modified rules, such funds cannot be used to pay for an abortion. However, clinics that provide abortions can still receive Title X funds for non-abortion services, including contraceptives and Pap tests. They can also advise women about the risks vs. benefits of an abortion and refer women to places that provide abortions.
Congress has frequently sought to place more draconian limits on Title X funding, with an ultimate goal of preventing family planning services from even offering advice regarding an abortion. At dead center of these attacks is Planned Parenthood, which has been conservatives’ main target for years and years. The most recent proposed legislation cropped up as part of Congress’s ill-fated attempt to repeal Obamacare. Fortunately, this was not enacted.
Stymied in Congress, Donald Trump has inserted himself into the fray via a threatened executive action — a “gag rule” that would enforce domestically what is already the case for clinics outside the U.S. In essence, reproductive health providers would be required either to stop discussing abortion with their patients – most specifically, they would not be able to discuss abortion as an option or refer patients to abortion providers – or stop receiving Title X money.
According to an NPR report, the proposed executive order would also “require facilities receiving federal family planning funds to be physically separate from those that perform abortion.” This could force the closing of facilities that currently provide both services within the same building.
While Trump had sent the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget for review last week, he officially went public with it Tuesday night, announcing it at the Susan B. Anthony List’s 11th annual Campaign for Life Gala.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU previously filed lawsuits against the Trump administration over enacting “guidance” that forces family planning services to prioritize practices such as the rhythm method over alternative contraception methods. You can expect these organizations to similarly challenge the gag rule in court. While exact wording of Trump’s executive order remains uncertain for the moment, one thing is clear: If the gag rule is enacted, retaining federal funding will require that physicians essentially lie to patients regarding abortion options. That’s one big reason why the rule needs to be blocked.
Legislative opposition to this latest effort from Trump is strong and growing. On May 14, over forty senators, including both California senators (Feinstein and Harris), sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warning of the potentially disastrous impact of a domestic gag rule. More than a hundred members of the House sent a similar letter; Barbara Lee was one of the first to sign, and Representatives DeSaulnier and Swalwell also signed, completing our East Bay contingent.
What you can do:
You can voice your opposition to the gag rule by emailing HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Here’s a suggestion for what to say:
Dear HHS Secretary Alex Azar,
I’m writing in opposition to President Trump’s announcement of a “gag rule” on health care providers that participate in Title X. If enacted, the gag rule would prohibit ANY Title X health care provider from referring patients for abortion — even if that’s what the patient wants, and even if withholding that information threatens their health. This would destroy the trust between patients and doctors. And it would put the health care of the four million people who depend on Title X at risk. I urge you to express your opposition to this rule.
You can also thank our Senators and Representatives for taking a prompt, strong stance on this important issue:
My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for signing on to the letter to the Department of Health and Human Services opposing a gag rule on health care providers receiving Title X funds. Women need need access to health care and they need to trust their health care providers to give them full and accurate information. The proposed gag rule would be dangerous and destructive. I’m counting on you to keep working to protect women’s health.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
- Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
- Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
- Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
- Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065