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Family planning gag rule hits Monticello

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On August 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District denied a motion by 23 states, Planned Parenthood and others to stay a ruling that allowed a so-called “gag rule” to go into force for healthcare provides who practice with affiliates of Planned Parenthood (PP), and other providers who provide family planning and other forms of healthcare and receive Title Ten funding.

The decision sparked Planned Parenthood’s decision to no longer accept Title Ten funding, a program that was signed into law in 1970 by Republican President Richard Nixon.

Title Ten funding has never been used to pay for abortions, but in the past it could be used by healthcare providers who could refer patients to abortion providers or discuss it as an option for family planning. But in March, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar introduced a new Title Ten rule that said organizations that receive the funding are not allowed to refer patients to an abortion provider or even discuss it as an option for family planning.

Three federal court judges had blocked the rule from taking effect while the lawsuit progressed through the court. One of the judges, Michael McShane, wrote, “At best, the Final Rule is a solution in search of a problem. At worst, it is a ham-fisted approach to health policy that recklessly disregards the health outcomes of women, families and communities. In the guise of ‘program integrity,’ the gag rule prevents doctors from behaving like informed professionals.”

A an appeals-court panel, made up of three Republican-appointees, saw the case differently and said the “gag rule” was a reasonable interpretation of the part of the Title Ten law that prevents that funding from being used to fund abortions, regardless of the fact that it directly conflicts with other federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act.

The decision has impacts that will be felt in thousands of communities throughout the country, including in Sullivan County. On August 22, Sen. Jen Metzger travelled to Sullivan County to announce a $13,000 grant from the state to the Monticello Health Center, which is a facility that is part of Planned Parenthood of Mid Hudson Valley (PPMHV).

Metzger had strong words for the gag rule and President Donald Trump’s administration. “The Administration’s Gag Rule makes it illegal for doctors and other healthcare providers participating in the Title Ten program to talk with their patients about how and where they can access abortions safely and legally. It’s blackmail, pure and simple, with the aim of preventing people from considering a reproductive health option that is safe and legal, and depriving women of having autonomy over decisions about their own bodies, and really over their own lives.”

Ruth-Ellen Blodgett, President and CEO of PPMHV, said she was hopeful that some extra funding would be coming from the state to make up for the loss of federal Title Ten dollars which made up about $717,000 of the $10 million yearly budget.

“But I’ve told so many people, Planned Parenthood services cannot rely on a wing and a prayer, and relying on backfill is not the way you provide healthcare. We need to overturn this somehow. We need to impress on the American people that this funding was signed into law by Richard M Nixon, a Republican president, supported by George H.W. Bush. This should not be a political issue. Abortion services cannot be provided through Title Ten and to put a gag rule on providers so that they cannot even mention abortion, or provide a referral for a women, even if that’s her absolute choice for why she came in, is just beyond the pale,” said Blodgett.

Beyond implementing a gag rule in the U.S., as one of his first moves in office, Trump re-instituted the global gag rule that was first introduced by President Ronald Reagan. According to PP, “The global gag rule prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. global health assistance from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocating for access to abortion services in their country—even with their own money.

“Until we end the global gag rule, the policy will continue to jeopardize the health and well-being of millions of women and girls and the families that depend on them.”

According to PP, there are at least “25 terrible things Trump has done to undermine reproductive health.” 

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