Who’s ignoring women’s health?
September 9, 2019
“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
This observation, attributed to Democratic politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, comes to mind as I see warring opinions about the Trump administration’s latest conflict with Planned Parenthood.
The administration has issued regulations to keep the federal Title X family planning program from promoting abortion. Title X projects must be financially and physically separate from abortion activity, and stop doing referrals for abortion as a method of family planning.
Planned Parenthood and others, including many states, filed suit against the regulations but have been rebuffed in federal court – and Planned Parenthood is leaving the Title X program in protest, forgoing almost $60 million in federal funds.
One opinion is that the administration has shown its disdain for women’s health, depriving over a million low-income women of health services in its zeal to defund Planned Parenthood. It has injected its ideology between doctors and patients with its “gag rule” on abortion, aided by the president’s right-wing court appointments. Salon magazine even says the goal is to end access to birth control because Republicans “hate the power it gives women.”
So now the facts. When Congress created Title X in 1970, it included an amendment by Democratic (not Republican) congressman John Dingell: “None of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”
Rep. Dingell said his intent was that “abortion is not to be encouraged or promoted in any way through this legislation.” Projects that treat abortion as family planning would be ineligible for federal funds because family planning programs should work to “reduce the incidence of abortion.”
And he cited “evidence that the prevalence of abortion as a substitute or a backup for contraceptive methods can reduce the effectiveness of family planning programs.” In other words, when you offer both, abortion tends to replace contraception. His amendment would keep this program focused on its stated purpose and make family planning more effective.
In 1988, the Reagan administration issued regulations, similar to the Trump regulations, to enforce this policy. In 1991, these rules were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court – including two justices, Kennedy and Souter, who supported a constitutional “right” to abortion.
They said the court had long held that government may use its funding power to encourage childbirth over abortion; the administration was simply enforcing a policy enacted by Congress; and there was no intrusion into the doctor/patient relationship, because abortion conversations could freely continue outside this federal program. Judges are upholding the Trump regulations because they must follow precedents set by the highest court in the land.
The Trump regulations don’t even “gag” counseling on abortion as a pregnancy option. They only rescind a Clinton-era rule mandating such counseling. Nor does the loss of $60 million “defund” Planned Parenthood: It received $563.8 million in taxpayer funds last year, and states with pro-abortion policies will try to replace what Planned Parenthood loses in federal funds. The new regulations also insist that Title X clinics provide timely referrals to primary health care providers, such as the nearly 10,000 federally funded community health centers serving low-income women.
A question remains. Why would Planned Parenthood leave Title X if it really thinks this undermines women’s health – when all it must do to stay in the program is tell its Title X grantees not to do abortion referrals? The answer seems to lie in a fierce ideological commitment to abortion, compared to which women’s health is unimportant. But that ideology is not that of the administration.
Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.