This is nuts, ya’ll. A Trump administration rule announced earlier this year has barred organizations from receiving Title X family planning funds if they so much as make referrals for abortions. A recent court ruling held that while there are still some ongoing legal issues being hashed out, the administration is now free to enforce this rule. Planned Parenthood has responded by opting to no longer receive Title X family planning funds.
Conservatives are elated.
“The news that [Planned Parenthood is] refusing to accept taxpayer funds to target vulnerable women is a good thing for women’s health,” said Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life in a statement. “…Women who need true healthcare will have their needs met by authentic and eager healthcare providers across America.”
Not … exactly.
Planned Parenthood served 40% of Title X recipients in the country. One reason Planned Parenthood served so many is that it made reproductive healthcare—and we’re talking about birth control here—simple and easy to obtain. You don’t have to find a primary care doctor with openings, you don’t have to schedule a physical (which, if you don’t have health insurance, will cost a pretty penny). All you have to do is go to Planned Parenthood and be seen by a provider there. And it’s not that hard to look up your nearest Planned Parenthood.
My sister went to Planned Parenthood for birth control before she got married. She was young, she didn’t have a lot of money, and—importantly—she didn’t have a primary care physician. It was simple and easy to locate the nearest Planned Parenthood location and make an appointment.
Let me break down Foster’s statement point by point.
“The news that [Planned Parenthood is] refusing to accept taxpayer funds to target vulnerable women…”
Planned Parenthood, Foster says, was using taxpayer funds to “target vulnerable women.” This framing is so twisted that it amounts to outright lying. Providing affordable, accessible healthcare to people that need it does not amount to targeting anyone. Foster terms low-income women in search of birth control “vulnerable,” participating in a devaluation of women’s ability to know their own needs and make their own decisions.
“…is a good thing for women’s health.”
Note that Foster is pretending that this is about women’s health. But what happens to all of those women who would have been served by Planned Parenthood through Title X funds, who can no longer access those services? The Title X funds can, in theory, be awarded elsewhere—but is Foster willing to take steps to ensure women know where they can receive Title X funded birth control, if they can no longer be served by Planned Parenthood?
Foster might suggest, now, that I’m the one devaluing women’s abilities. Am I saying women don’t know how to call a doctor and make an appointment? No. No I am not. I am merely suggesting that removing a simple and accessible avenue to obtaining a needed women’s health service is not a good thing for women’s health.
“Women who need true healthcare…”
What the blazes is “true” healthcare? Remember that these Title X funds were only for contraceptives, not for abortions. Is Foster one of those anti-abortion activists who is also anti-contraception? Is she one of those who argues that reproduction is part of women’s bodies’ natural function, and that trying to suspend reproduction via contraceptives is therefore not healthcare at all, but something else entirely?
“…will have their needs met by authentic and eager healthcare providers across America.”
I have a question. What are “authentic” healthcare providers? What does “authentic” even mean in a healthcare setting? Does it mean pro-life healthcare providers? Because I feel like it does. Foster is contrasting “authentic” healthcare providers with providers at Planned Parenthood. As though healthcare providers putting in long, hard hours providing women with reproductive care, in the face of hate and terrorist attacks on their persons and clinics and prolonged political campaigns, are not authentic. Sure.
One extremely charitable reading of Foster’s words—and this is seriously stretching—is that she wants women to have their healthcare needs met by primary care providers, rather than through visits to Planned Parenthood, where you may not see the same person twice. While this clearly wasn’t what Foster was actually after—with her use of words like “vulnerable” and “true” and “authentic”—there are people who want to see more women obtain birth control through primary care providers. And sure, it would be sweet if everyone had a primary care provider. But holding their birth control hostage is not how you get people to get primary care providers.
Also, I know people who were denied the contraception they wanted by their primary care physician because that physician’s practice was bought by a Catholic hospital. So even though having a primary care provider is absolutely a good idea, going to a primary care provider for birth control may not always be the best option.
Of course, Title X funds typically go to clinics and community health centers, rather than doctor’s practices, and there’s a long list of these providers. In other words, this isn’t about whether women have primary care providers. On a vary superficial level, this is about whether women go to their local Planned Parenthood or to a community health center for birth control. Except that it’s not. It’s actually about two very specific things.
First, this new rule is about depriving Planned Parenthood of funds by whatever means possible—even if those funds are for contraceptive services and not for abortion. The more they can cut off Planned Parenthood’s funds and cut down the number of women going to Planned Parenthood for any services at all—for instance, by making the services there less affordable and thereby pushing these women elsewhere instead—the better. The goal is to starve Planned Parenthood of funds and to shut down as many Planned Parenthood locations as possible.
Never mind that Planned Parenthood is one of the most visible providers of contraceptives—increasing women’s ease in finding birth control services—and that increased contraceptive access decreases abortions performed.
Second, under this rule, all of those other community health centers will have to choose between receiving Title X funds and making referrals for abortions. We’re not even just talking performing abortions. We’re talking about simply pointing a woman who wants an abortion to a doctor who can provide one. Under this new rule, if someone shows up at a community health center in her first trimester, determined that they want an abortion, the staff and medical providers there won’t be able to point them in the direction of a legitimate abortion provider.
This is not about women’s healthcare. It never was. It’s about making abortion harder to obtain, period and full stop. Conservatives are using restrictions on women’s contraceptive access as a bargaining chip—if you want to offer contraceptives, they say to providers, you have to stop having anything to do with abortions, including referrals. This is a terrible thing to use as a bargaining chip, threatening to withhold at will. One of the best ways to decrease abortions is to make contraceptives more easily accessible, not to play chicken with it.
I live two blocks from a Catholic hospital. I’ve heard horror stories from women who were treated there, only to be denied the contraceptives or healthcare they asked for or needed, because what a handful of old white men think about their bodies matters more than what they or their physicians know about their bodies. Being a woman of reproductive age and living two blocks from a Catholic hospital is terrifying. And conservatives want to take this further. Only, they want to dictate how secular community health clinics can serve women.
I’ll be honest—theres a big part of me that is looking forward to my ovaries shutting down. I’m still a good ways off from menopause, but it would be just delightful not to have to wonder whether my healthcare is going to be compromised by what this doctor or that thinks about the potential reproductive capacity of my lady parts.
And that is where we are in this country.
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