Poor women and their families are going to pay the price for a political victory President Trump threw to his allies on the Christian right.

“I just can’t believe that they are so arrogant as to impose this rule on trusted medical providers in our state while the litigation is happening,” said George Hill, president and CEO of Maine Family Planning, shown at a rally in July 2018. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Starting this week, family planning funds will not be distributed to clinics that provide abortion or even mention the procedure when they counsel a pregnant woman. Trump’s “gag rule” pulls millions of dollars out of public health programs nationwide, including $2 million that would have come to Maine, aiding approximately 23,000 women.

Anti-abortion extremists see this as a backdoor attack on abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, even though the money they are targeting can’t be used for abortion.

Trump and his allies are going after the program known as Title X, which pays for birth control, pregnancy tests, counseling and other reproductive health programs but not abortion. Their stated goal is to weaken Planned Parenthood, which is the top recipient of the money nationwide, and is a leading advocacy group for abortion rights.

So to hurt Planned Parenthood, they are limiting access to the services it provides other than abortion. And they are not trying to deny those services to everyone – just people who don’t have health insurance or the means to go to a doctor at their own expense.

With the gag order in effect, one set of women would get a full range of medical options, while another would not. Under the new rules, faith-based organizations that push ineffective birth control techniques like abstinence and “the rhythm method” would be eligible for government birth control funds, but not a clinic that tells a patient the truth about her medical options.


The best way to cut down demand for abortion would be to make sure that sex education and birth control was widely available. Trump’s backwards policy seems designed to create more unintended pregnancies in poor families.

Maine Family Planning, the organization that served as the conduit for the Title X funds in the state, announced this week that it would not play ball. George Hill, the organization’s president and CEO, said the group would not ask for federal funds so it could continue providing a full range of services.

Hill said he imagined a teenaged patient who just received a positive pregnancy test result and wanted to know her options.  “I don’t want to put our providers in the position of having to respond with simply a referral for prenatal care or the statement that they cannot talk about abortion.”

But relying on the organization’s reserve funds is not sustainable in the longterm. It’s vital that the gag rule be lifted.

U.S. House passed legislation in June that would eliminate the gag rule. It’s up to the Republican-controlled Senate to do its part to undo this injustice.

There is no good reason to turn birth control and family planning counseling into anything other than an important public health services that should be available to whoever needs them. The U.S. government should not be in the business of imposing suffering on financially stressed women and their families just to gain leverage for one side in the abortion debate.

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