Trump’s Domestic Gag Rule is a Deadly Attack on Poor Women

In its latest attack on reproductive rights, the Trump administration has proposed a new rule prohibiting women’s health clinics that receive federal funding under Title X from “performing, promoting, referring for or supporting abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Under this new rule, organizations will be denied Title X funding if they so much as mention abortion anywhere on their premises. It mandates that all abortion-related services be banished to a separate location, run by a completely separate staff and privately funded. This suggestion is not only stigmatizing—making a mockery of a woman’s right to choose by exiling her to a remote location for treatment—but it is also incredibly harmful, impeding a physician’s ability to provide the best, most comprehensive care possible. This new policy is also an extension of Trump’s work to dismantle women’s health care abroad, a task his administration has pursued relentlessly. One of Trump’s first actions as president was re-instating and expanding the Global Gag Rule, forcing critical women’s health providers around the world to close and forbidding those that remained from offering potentially life-saving information and services to women and girls.

It’s unfathomable to imagine that a facility providing pregnancy testing so regularly will be forbidden from discussing the full range of options available with its patients. And yet, that’s exactly what this rule demands. Not only will it eliminate the existing sanction in Title X that requires detailed counseling on all potential services—including adoption and abortion—but it will stifle discussion of abortion altogether. As a result, vital information will be withheld from women, undermining their right to choose and the very idea of choice itself.

The administration refutes the idea that this policy is a “gag rule,” but Kashif Syed, a senior analyst at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pushed back. “Blocking doctors from telling patients where they can get specific health services in this country,” she told The New York Times, “is the very definition of a gag rule.”

Planned Parenthood uniquely understands the implications of the gag rule—which, in many ways, is a direct attack on the broad range of preventive care they provide to low-income women across the country. With this new policy in place, the administration could finally fulfill its promise to defund Planned Parenthood, resulting in devastating effects for millions of women. “There’s no conceivable purpose for a rule like this,” Syed declared in a press call on Friday, “except as a political attack on Planned Parenthood and reproductive health providers like it.”

Title X, which was established in 1970, allows millions of already underserved and often uninsured poor women and girls to access critical health care. Over four million patients rely on Title X funding for reproductive health care each year. 41 percent of them do so at Planned Parenthood clinics, and more than one-third of low-income women who receive birth control through Title X do so at Planned Parenthood, too.

These women will feel the true impact of Trump’s new rule—and its deadly consequences. “This dangerous anti-woman and anti-science gag rule would take away from poor women, uninsured women, and adolescents their basic reproductive health services and would result in harming vulnerable women and girls,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, in a press release issued Friday.

Without organizations like Planned Parenthood in communities across the country, we will see a rise in unintended pregnancies—and an increase in maternal mortality rates, maternal illness and unsafe abortions, compounding an already elevated risk of pregnancy-related deaths. As explored in a recent feature in The New York Times, black mothers and infants are more likely to suffer pregnancy-related deaths than white mothers and children as a result of systemic racism. This new policy will also compound that risk—exponentially.

“We know that the Global Gag Rule that was reinstated and expanded by the Trump-Pence Administration is resulting in desperately needed services being cut, health clinics forced to close and an increase in maternal mortality, maternal illness and unsafe abortions,” Smeal continued in her statement. “Bottom line: Whether in the Global South or the United States, such a punitive and dangerous rule will increase maternal mortality and cause needless suffering.” The Feminist Majority Foundation’s sister organization, the Feminist Majority, is encouraging supporters to call on their congressional lawmakers to prevent the rule from taking effect.

There are socio-economic implications attached to this policy too—ones that will be felt, disproportionately, by the low-income women least equipped to overcome them. “Women who can’t get access to basic reproductive health care services have fewer economic opportunities going forward,” Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out in an interview this week with Glamour. “An unplanned pregnancy can derail an education or the early steps of a career.”

The White House claims these new guidelines will guarantee federal funds aren’t used for abortions, but Title X and the Hyde Amendment already prohibit such use of federal funds—and have for decades. As a result, Planned Parenthood and organizations of its kind use only private funding for abortions, reserving federal funds for a myriad of other services like contraception, screenings for breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases and other forms of preventive care.

But despite the administration’s plan to implement this rule, Planned Parenthood affirms that it won’t stop providing abortions, or referrals, to its patients. And across the country, many small, independent clinics will continue to stand by their patients as well.

“Everyone has the right to access information about their health care—including information about safe, legal abortion,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “and every woman deserves the best medical care and information, no matter how much money she makes or where she lives.”

Nicholl Paratore grew up on opposite ends of the East Coast, living first in Maine and later in Florida. She spent nearly a decade in New York, where she studied media theory at New York University and established a career in social media within the fashion industry. She now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she is pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her essays explore image and identity and are largely influenced by her interest in visual media. She is currently at work on a collection of essays. 

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