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As published in the Orange County Register.

On May 18, the Trump administration released a proposed rule to bar clinics that get federal Title X funding from providing abortion services or referrals to abortion clinics.

White House and Department of Health and Human Services officials said the rule is an effort to prevent the $260 million Title X program, which is designed to provide basic primary and preventive health services for low-income women and families, from indirectly funding abortions.

Opponents of this rule, including Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocates say this is a “gag rule” aimed at restricting women’s reproductive rights. Proponents, mostly pro-life activists, view this as a victory for “religious freedom.”

Here are five things to know:

1. What is the Title X family planning program?

President Richard Nixon, in 1970, signed the Title X Family Planning program as part of the Public Health Services Act passed by Congress. This law encouraged public and nonprofit groups to develop comprehensive family planning services such as contraceptives although it still prohibited the use of federal money to pay for abortions with this funding.

Title X clinics became a place where low-income families could receive such services. Budget allocation for this program grew from $6 million at inception to $286.5 million in 2017.

2. What will change if the rule goes into effect?

If the Administration’s proposed rule goes into effect, doctors and staff members at Title X clinics will no longer be allowed to refer or give information to a patient about abortion, even if the patient asks for it. Opponents, particularly pro-choice advocates are calling this the “gag rule” and the White House has rejected that term.

“It absolutely is a gag rule because it prevents doctors from giving patients all options including abortion,” said Nichole Ramirez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties. “The medical ethics of not allowing a doctor to provide patients with accurate and complete information is also questionable.”

3. Will the rule affect women who get healthcare services other than abortions from Planned Parenthood?

Planned Parenthood clinics currently receive Title X funding to provide non-abortion-related services such as contraception and cancer screenings.

Ramirez said this chapter of Planned Parenthood will likely forego $800,000 a year in Title X funding if this rule becomes law. She estimated that about 1 million low-income women and families in California who receive these services will be limited in access to quality healthcare.

4. What does this new rule mean for faith-based clinics and organizations?

Faith-based organizations have been encouraged to apply for these funds.

In fact, a clinic that is eligible to receive Title X funds could offer natural family planning counsel to patients. This method, presented as an alternative to contraception, involves tracking a woman’s ovulation cycle to determine fertile and infertile days.

Experts widely believe natural family planning to be far less effective in preventing pregnancy compared to birth control pills.

The new rule will also protect employers who don’t offer employees health insurance plans, which cover contraception.

5. What’s next?

The public comment period ended July 31. According to Planned Parenthood, more than 70,000 Californians have commented in opposition to the rule.

The Department of Health and Human Services must review tends of thousands of submitted comments on this issue. The rule may or may not be modified to reflect the public comments.

At this time, it is not known when this rule might go into effect.


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