Calling on Congress to make sure that everyone has a happy holiday

Calling on Congress to make sure that everyone has a happy holiday
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Soon members of Congress will return home to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. They can enjoy their holiday season without worrying about whether or not they can get the health care they need, whether or not they will have a warm place to sleep and whether or not they will go to bed hungry.  

Everyone deserves a holiday season free of these worries. That's why we are urging Congress to resolve funding for the federal government beyond the current stop-gap measure, which expires on Dec. 20, before they leave for home. 

In addition to ensuring that the government is funded, members of Congress have the opportunity to restore access to birth control for millions of low-income people by finishing the work the House started and repairing the Title X program.

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This year’s rule changes for the Title X Family Planning Program have hurt people who are struggling to make ends meet. 

The Trump administration’s “domestic gag rule” has significantly cut access to affordable contraception for people in need. 

Specifically, the administration’s new rule prohibits health centers that receive Title X funds from providing information about and referrals for abortion care. 

As a result, Title X clinics have been given the untenable choice between offering no or low-cost services to their most vulnerable clients and withholding basic health-care information about legal services from their patients. 

The domestic gag rule has already had a devastating impact. We estimate that 8.8 million women in more than 390 counties located in 30 states are at risk of losing access to these critical services because the clinic they have depended on has been forced out of the Title X Program. 

In all, approximately 900 clinics have opted out of the Title X Program, forcing them to limit hours, raise costs, and in some cases close their doors. The domestic gag rule has exacerbated an already challenging contraceptive access landscape. 

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Prior to the domestic gag rule going into effect, more than 19.5 million women in need already lived in contraceptive deserts or counties without reasonable access to the full range of contraceptive methods. 

When considering the challenges of working poor we can most clearly see the impact of the rule. These are people who don’t get paid if they don’t go work and who live paycheck to paycheck. As a result of the new rule, these same people won’t be able to meet the higher out of pocket costs for contraception and related care.

For people with limited incomes, the combined costs associated with traveling longer distances for a clinic that provides affordable health services and the unpaid time off from work, makes medical appointments an unaffordable luxury. 

The fact is that if when forced to make a choice between providing for their families and going to medical appointments for diagnostic testing and contraceptive care they will not go to a health center. 

Without reasonable access to these critical preventive services, people are left vulnerable to experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or not getting early diagnoses or treatments for life and death conditions

This is what happened to Mary, from Georgia, for example, who needed birth control to treat near-debilitating cramps and extreme bleeding but had to wait more than three months for an appointment at her nearest health center. 

Emily, from Missouri, also experienced difficulty in obtaining contraception when she had to travel more than 50 miles to a health clinic to access her birth control prescription.

As the Dec. 20 deadline to fund the government approaches, Congress must protect the integrity of Title X and undo the damage the gag rule has already caused. 

Members of Congress have the opportunity to ensure that Mary and Emily, and millions of others struggling to make ends meet, can access quality reproductive health care by finishing the work the House started and repairing the Title X program. 

Such a step would help provide all people with the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child. 

Ginny Ehrlich is the CEO of Power to Decide