I Won’t Stop Fighting for Title X—Because it Transformed My Mother’s Life

My mother can recall in vivid detail the day she went with her friends to buy birth control in 1970. She planned the excursion meticulously: Her high school nurse wrote notes excusing her and her friends from class that day, and she secretly borrowed the family car while her parents were out of town. Soon, they were on the road to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Newark, New Jersey.

Before her trip, pregnancy was, in my mother’s words, her “greatest fear.” The stigma associated with teenage pregnancy was suffocating. Roe v. Wade was still a few years away. Two of her closest friends had become pregnant, but New Jersey laws strictly prohibited abortion.

Luckily, they had the means to travel across state lines to New York, which had just become the first state to legalize abortion, to access these services—and President Nixon had just enacted the Title X Family Planning Program, the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with contraception and related preventative health services.

Congress created Title X  to “prevent unwanted pregnancies among sexually active adolescents.” Sure enough, its funding enabled clinics around the country to provide young people like my mother with the confidential services they needed to make responsible choices about their sexual and reproductive health.

With the passage of Title X, my mother and her friends witnessed firsthand how the law could be used as a tool for women’s liberation. Their lives were transformed. But 48 years later, we’re witnessing a devastating attack on Title X—and the ability of teenagers to access confidential reproductive health services.

BACORR clinic defenders outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. (Steve Rhodes / Creative Commons)

In February, the Trump administration announced that it aims to radically shift Title X family planning services grants to reflect socially conservative priorities—prioritizing abstinence-only programs over comprehensive care.

Abstinence-only approaches withhold facts and potentially life-saving information and, quite simply, fail to convince most adolescents to abstain from sexual activity. Ironically, the government’s own teen pregnancy data shows that urging health care providers to communicate abstinence-until-marriage messages to adolescents simply does not work.

Trump’s attacks on Title X come amidst historically low teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the U.S. According to HHS, teen pregnancy rates in 2016 are down 67 percent from 1991, when they were at a record high in large part because of Ronald Reagan’s own approaches to the policy—which were similar to Trump’s.

The administration has also imposed a Domestic Gag Rule barring organizations that receive Title X funding from providing information, counseling and referrals about safe abortion services. Like the Global Gag Rule reinstated and expanded by Trump last year, new Title X policies coerce doctors into staying silent about evidence-based family planning methods, including abortion, under threat of losing their government funding.

These proposed Title X changes will disproportionately affect low-income women, further building a system in which reproductive rights are unnecessarily restricted and only accessible to those who can afford them. They violate teens’ right to confidential care. They violate international human rights laws. They flout international protections of the freedom of speech and association.

My mother and her friends witnessed their rights to family planning and contraception come into being. Nearly a half-century later, we must all remain committed to resisting attempts to take them away.

Danielle Stouck is the Grants and Development Manager at the Global Justice Center. She holds a Master’s Degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s Degree in middle eastern studies and human rights from Barnard College. With expertise in forced displacement, gender equality and refugee rights, Danielle has worked with organizations including the Human Rights Funders Network, Women’s Refugee Commission, the World Food Programme, and the Near East Foundation and Public Agenda. 

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