By Rebecca Todd Peters
March 5, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
The Trump administration has made another aggressive move toward compromising women’s health care in this country with the release of new guidelines for Title X funding.
The new guidelines not only prevent federal dollars for health centers that include abortion care, among other services, but they prevent doctors and other health care professionals from discussing abortion with patients — even if the patient asks for a referral.
Make no mistake about it. These new rules have nothing to do with women’s health. Even more importantly, they fail to recognize the basic humanity of women.
Title X, which has a long history of bipartisan support, has been providing funding for comprehensive birth control services and preventive health care to low-income and uninsured women and families since it was established in 1970. By eliminating even the discussion of abortion as an option from Title X, the Trump administration is taking a perilous step toward restricting the definition of “comprehensive family planning.”
Conservative Christians have been laying the groundwork for this “gag rule” for decades. Beginning in 1977, the Hyde Amendment banned the use of federal funds to pay for women’s health care expenses related to abortion care.
More recently, there has been a marked upsurge in restricting access to abortion at the state level, with one-third of all restrictions since Roe v. Wade passing in the past seven years. From waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds and restrictions on insurance coverage to clinic regulations intended to close down health centers and restrictions on the procedures for administering medication abortions, anti-abortion forces are attempting to convince the public that abortion and abortion providers are a threat to women.
Americans, however, disagree. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 60 percent of the American public trust health care providers and agree that they should be able to discuss the option of abortion with their patients, even if the providers receive federal funding for preventive health services. These numbers held true across some pretty traditional divides, with Hispanic Catholics (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (59 percent), white evangelical Protestants (60 percent), black Protestants (63 percent) and white Catholics (64 percent) all opposing laws or policies that would restrict health care providers from discussing abortion with their patients.
While the Trump administration’s actions are clearly a blatant attempt to play to his base and shut down Planned Parenthood, this fight is not just about Planned Parenthood. First, it would impact many other providers at other family planning clinics and health systems across the country. But equally important, it is clearly part of a larger agenda focused on enforcing rigid gender roles and controlling women’s sexuality, which begins with eliminating women’s access to abortion.
Coercion is the best way to describe how conservative Christians imagine public policy related to abortion. Numerous state policies over the past five years actively employ coercion to delay women’s access to abortion procedures and coerce women into continuing their pregnancies.
In a world that accepts coercive state policies toward women and their pregnancies, how long before the state starts to take those babies away? After all, there are a lot of women out there struggling with infertility who would like a healthy newborn. Will anyone really object if the state starts to take away the babies of poor women — the same women who will be impacted by this gag rule?
It wouldn’t be the first time. Our history of coercing enslaved black women to have babies and stealing them away is a relevant backdrop to what is happening today. Likewise, the postwar practice of coercing single white “girls” to hide away in seclusion and “give” their babies up for adoption only really fell away in the wake of the sexual revolution and the decriminalization of abortion in 1973. The recent crisis of immigration officials separating migrant children from their parents is the latest stain on our collective memory of coercive state policies related to women and their children.
Poor women, young women and women of color will feel the brunt of these new regulations — the very women Title X funding was set up to support. The Trump administration’s actions undermine women’s health, women’s moral agency and women’s capacity to act as full citizens in this country.
Federal agencies gagging health care professionals from sharing medical information relevant to their patient’s care is a gross human rights violation and ought to be treated as such. It is time to go on the offensive and carve out greater protection for women’s access to comprehensive family planning.
We should do everything we can to stop this new rule in the courts — and eventually at the ballot box. But we also need to think bigger and bolder. It is time to repeal the Hyde Amendment and embrace what most Americans already believe: that abortion should be part of comprehensive family planning for every woman in this country, regardless of her race, income or zip code.
Rebecca Todd Peters is a professor of religious studies at Elon University, an ordained PC(USA) minister, and a PRRI public fellow, and her latest book is “Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice.”
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