Why America’s faithful must stand against the domestic gag rule

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The religious right in America hitched its wagon to President Trump to impose their beliefs on others and limit the health care people can and cannot receive. It began with President Trump’s first stroke of the pen reinstating and callously expanding the global gag rule. His policy withholds $9 billion in U.S. foreign assistance including, for the first time, almost $6 billion in HIV/AIDS relief — from organizations and governments around the world if they counsel or refer patients for abortion care, even if abortion is legal in their country. The result has drastically undermined the health of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Now, President Trump and his ultraconservative allies are doing the same thing at home with a domestic gag rule.

{mosads}Last week, the Trump administration issued the final version of a rule barring clinics that provide or refer patients for abortions from participating in the $286 million Title X federal family planning program. This rule is a naked attempt to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and other health-care providers who serve patients receiving family planning services under Title X and to redirect the funding to faith-based groups that the Trump administration wants to reward for their loyalty.

As we’ve seen with the global gag rule, the cruelest part of this policy is that people of color and low-income communities will be impacted the most because they have fewer options for care. Patients who receive care through Title X are disproportionately low-income and young; about one-third identify as people of color and about one in 10 have limited English proficiency. These patients rely on trusted providers who receive Title X funds to get preventative services, like cancer screenings, and birth control. Denying patients the basic care they need goes against the very tenets of social justice many of the faithful in America hold dear.

The domestic gag rule will restrict health centers receiving Title X funding from discussing the full range of reproductive care, and from referring patients for safe, legal abortion care. It also imposes excessive  requirements for facilities to physically and financially separate the services they provide with Title X funding from abortion or abortion referral services they may provide with non-federal dollars. Treating abortion care as separate from other services is an obvious attempt to shut down Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of women who rely on Title X. Tellingly, the changes also make it easier for fake health centers that actively deceive women to keep them from seeking abortions to receive Title X funding.

To understand the intent and consequences of this proposed federal policy, it is helpful to look at one state that erected similar hurdles. In 2002, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, then led by Jane Norton, put restrictions into place mandating separation of abortion from other services in health centers seeking continued Title X funding.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) went to great lengths at their Fort Collins health center to comply with the new requirements. They built separate entrances and separate waiting rooms to physically quarantine abortion from other health care. PPRM jumped through absurd hoops to continue providing essential health care to their patients, knowing that the restrictions were without basis in patient safety or legal necessity. The state of Colorado still cut off PPRM’s Title X funding.

In January 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of PPRM, writing that the argument for separating health care services to avoid any co-mingling of funds was “absurd,” stretching logic to the breaking point.

Let us be clear – these “gag rules” are not about protecting patients. They exist to create obstacles, to shame, and to stigmatize patients seeking abortion care. They are traps to defund providers, like Planned Parenthood, that believe in providing patients — no matter who they are or what their income level — compassionate, unbiased information about the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive care. Gag rules deny us access to the truth.

We have seen how this plays out and the outcome is clear — when we privilege one set of beliefs over what care people can and cannot access, the most vulnerable pay the price. Americans, especially people of faith committed to social justice, should make their voices heard against this domestic gag rule.

It’s up to all of us to stand for what is right and fight back against these unconscionable policies.

Cynthia Romero is the director of communications for Catholics for Choice. Jack Teter is the Colorado political director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains & Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado.

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