By Michelle Ruiz, Vogue
Defunding Planned Parenthood has been a longtime passion project for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and earlier this year they came up with a creative new way to deprive women of their health care and reproductive freedom. In the latest evangelization of the federal government—never mind the separation of church and state—the Trump administration in February handed down a new rule to the Department of Health and Human Services’s Title X program, which provides federal funding for affordable contraception, pregnancy tests, and STI and cancer screenings to low-income women (including an estimated 1.5 million women every year at Planned Parenthood). The restriction decreed that, for the first time in the program’s 49-year history, any organization receiving Title X funding would not be permitted to refer patients to an abortion provider or even suggest where an abortion could be obtained.
On Monday, while continuing to challenge the restriction in courts, Planned Parenthood said it would no longer accept Title X funding—an estimated $60 million a year—if it means complying with the gag on how it can talk to the women it serves. “When you have an unethical rule that will limit what providers can tell our patients, it becomes really important that we not agree to be in the program,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, to the New York Times. Tellingly it’s not just Planned Parenthood but also the American Medical Association and many other organizations fighting the rule, saying it limits doctors from having necessary discussions with patients about their health.
According to the New York Times, McGill Johnson “accused the administration of forcing Planned Parenthood out of the Title X program”—and given the Trump-Pence track record, she’s very likely right that this is the administration’s way of backing the organization into a corner. Defunding Planned Parenthood was a conservative-baiting campaign-trail talking point for Trump. As governor of Indiana, Pence indeed defunded the organization at the state level, only to see HIV rates climb. Now at the helm of the federal government, they continue their dark arts to the detriment of low-income women, including many women of color, who benefit from Title X. In some rural communities, the Times notes, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of such services. The risk to those women’s health was deemed worth it by the administration, so long as it got to beam yet another anti-abortion bat signal.
In a maddening statement HHS said that groups who will not follow the new rule “are now blaming the government for their own actions” and even accused them—read: Planned Parenthood—of “abandoning their obligations to serve their patients under the program.” But on the contrary, in the face of relentless attempts to chip away at its services, Planned Parenthood is only sending its patients a powerful, resounding message: that it will continue to fight for them, that they can’t be bought, and it won’t bargain with the Trump administration when it comes to women’s health.