Domestic “gag rule” threatens our social safety net

The Title X "gag rule" is a violation of medical ethics and patients’ rights, but the damage has yet to be fully understood.

You may have seen phrases such as “Title X” or “gag rule” cycling around social media or news stories, but what do these terms actually entail? 

Title X was created in 1970 with the purpose to provide low-income women with $260 million in family planning grants annually. Rather than funding abortions, Title X covers screenings and annual exams, and is the only federal program that is dedicated completely to preventative health care. Although Planned Parenthood receives Title X funds, the program also spans a network of state and local health departments and more than 4,100 family planning provider sites, according to the Guttmacher Institute

Looking beyond the seemingly paradoxical policies, it is important to recognize how the current administration’s policies—such as the domestic gag rule—are designed to target the most vulnerable in society.”

The “gag rule,” in its current usage, is the over-arching description of the administration denying the right of a patient to receive accurate information on their medical option. As the word “gag” implies, patients receiving Title X funds are being “choked” out of their reproductive agency, and prevented from seeking medical options such as counseling and abortion referrals.

According to Power to Decide, an organization working to prevent unplanned pregnancies, the gag rule also leaves health centers with an ethical dilemma: “accept funds to support their patients who might not otherwise be able to afford family planning care or withhold information from patients about abortion services.”

In other words, clinics can decide to keep Title X funds at the cost of halting family consultations or services that include abortion—or, alternatively, clinics can choose to stop receiving Title X funds and continue offering full abortion services. This rule thus separates clinics receiving Title X funds from clinics receiving private insurance, which have full access to information and services. As a result, those who rely on Title X funds—who are disproportionately low-income, uninsured, or people of color—will suffer a blow to their livelihood and health. 

Along with the Title X program, it seems that health care—such as Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act—is an almost overwhelmingly complex program. However, looking beyond the technicalities and the seemingly paradoxical policies, it is important to recognize how the current administration’s policies—such as the domestic gag rule—are designed to target the most vulnerable in society. With this in mind, one can look through any politician’s veiled rhetoric and see the real people that a policy is affecting.

In August of 2019, Planned Parenthood was forced out of Title X funding due to the enforcement of the Trump administration’s gag rule. In a remark, Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said, “The Trump administration’s gag rule will reverberate across the country … Health care shouldn’t come down to how much you earn, where you live, or who you are.” Though the future of the gag rule remains uncertain, its opposing force—the individuals working in political activism and protest—must remain confident in the ideals of helping the most vulnerable.