By Lauren Rearick
On Monday, August 19, Planned Parenthood announced it would no longer participate in Title X, a federal program that provides affordable reproductive health care access to more than four million people living in the United States. In a statement, the organization explained it was “forced out” of Title X as a result of President Donald Trump’s newly-implemented “gag rule,” which prevents organizations that receive federal funding for reproductive health offerings to refer patients to abortion-related services, should they need it or ask for it.
Implemented in 1970, Title X ensured that income does not play a barrier in offering wellness exams, birth control, STD testing, and other reproductive health services to qualifying low-income residents. Abortions have never been paid for or covered by Title X funding, CBS News reported, and Planned Parenthood’s annual report said abortions account for only four percent of the services it provides to patients. An estimated 4,000 reproductive health centers throughout the U.S. offer services through Title X, and although Planned Parenthood represented only 13 percent of those centers, nearly half of those who qualified for Title X were Planned Parenthood patients.
Back in May, the Department of Health and Human Services introduced what Planned Parenthood deemed a gag rule; the organization also warned the ruling, which made it so that doctors could not discuss abortions with patients, would most likely affect “low-income and underserved communities,” Buzzfeed reported. On August 14, Planned Parenthood asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to grant a stay on the proposed changes; after the stay was denied, the organization announced it would no longer participate in Title X.
During a call held with the press on August 19, Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting president and CEO, said the organization would remain open and accessible to those in need, but the gag order could cause a barrier in options for some people. “The Title X program is designed to help bring access to birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and more to those who otherwise can’t afford it,” McGill said. “For too many people struggling to make ends meet — including those people in rural areas and communities of color — this gag rule may mean they delay or go without care. We believe that the Trump administration is doing this as an attack on reproductive health care and to keep providers like Planned Parenthood from serving our patients.”
The Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, interim president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), criticized the Trump/Pence administration for what she deemed a “withholding of information from patients.” In an interview with MTV News, she questioned the intentions of the rule and said, “It is unfathomable that anyone would want to prevent health care providers from giving their patients accurate medical information and referrals to other safe, quality health care providers but that is exactly what this Title X gag rule is meant to do.”
Planned Parenthood did not confirm the exact financial specifics of how its departure from Title X would come to impact patients or the organization going forward, CBS News reported, but it promised to continue offering care to its patients. In a press release, the organization theorized that “people who can’t find or can’t afford another reproductive health care provider may be left with nowhere to turn or go without birth control altogether. Even in areas where other providers are present, the providers often lack the capacity to serve additional patients.”
Ragsdale told MTV News she believed patients would still seek out the abortion services they needed, but choices would be limited. “Some people will delay or go without care,” she said. “We already see people have to drive great distances to receive abortion care and now we could see them having to drive hundreds of miles just to obtain birth control, pregnancy testing, or cancer screenings.”
Planned Parenthood is now calling on the Senate to pass a spending bill that would block the gag rule, and politicians including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Kamala Harris, and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke offered their support of the organization and its work.
News of the gag rule comes as the Trump administration continues to limit and attack reproductive healthcare options in America. Planned Parenthood noted a 63 percent increase in bills aimed at preventing abortions since 2018, and lawmakers in several states, including Ohio and Alabama, have proposed total bans on abortions, which would directly violate Roe v. Wade.