For all the long and heated disputes between pro-life and pro-choice supporters, you’d think they could at least agree on this: Preventing unintended pregnancies is a good thing.
The failure to agree on the value of contraception surfaced again this week as the Trump administration’s new rules barring abortion referrals effectively pushed Planned Parenthood to quit the federal Title X family planning program. The result will be reduced access to birth control and likely a rise in what the new rules are supposed to limit — abortions.
A report from the the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports reproduction rights, found that in 2015 services provided by clinics that received Title X funding reduced the U.S. rate of unintended pregnancies by 31 percent and prevented 277,800 abortions.
Now nearly 50 years old, the $286 million national Title X program helps low-income women obtain birth control, cancer screenings and tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood withdrew after the administration barred federally funded health clinics from providing patients with information about abortion or sharing office space with abortion providers. Planned Parenthood had provided care for about 40 percent of the 4 million Title X recipients.
In North Carolina, the change comes as an aftershock. Planned Parenthood of North Carolina’s federal application for a renewal of its Title X funding was denied this spring by the Department of Health and Human Services for reasons that have not yet been explained to the group. Women in North Carolina had already lost access to Title X funds through Planned Parenthood before the organization withdrew nationally on Monday.
Paige Johnson, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (which includes the Carolinas, West Virginia and parts of Virginia) said her organization’s loss of Title X funds will have consequences: more unintended pregnancies, a rise in sexually transmitted diseases and less early detection of cancers.
“I don’t see another organization stepping into the void,” Johnson said. And now that the void has been extended nationwide, she said, “What you are gong to see is a public health crisis.”
In North Carolina, where Planned Parenthood operates nine health clinics, Title X provided $2.1 million annually for the care and education of patients, providers and the community. Johnson said the funds helped provide 11,000 low-income patients in North Carolina with health care, medical tests and access to birth control, including the more expensive long-term methods.
“The most effective birth control is cost-prohibitive for most people and Title X would have covered that,” Johnson said.
Johnson said workers at Planned Parenthood clinics in North Carolina are having painful conversations when uninsured young women come looking for forms of birth control the organization can no longer provide without charge.
In a statement to NPR on Monday, Health and Human Services officials said Planned Parenthood and other grantees who balked at the new rules have themselves to blame for their new obstacles to serving women. The statement said the groups “are abandoning their obligations to serve their patients under the program.”
Johnson said it was important that Planned Parenthood refuse to go along with a ban on advising women about abortion.
“If you were to think about this in terms of any other health care and (providers) withheld information on a procedure that was safe, legal and should be available to you, it would be bad medicine,” she said. “It’s a gag order and that’s why it’s so wrong.”
If the Trump administration really wants to reduce abortions, it should increase access to contraception. It has done the opposite.