Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The Trump administration just took an important step that may well increase the abortion rate, lead to unintended pregnancies, push women toward self-induced and potentially unsafe abortions and curb free speech – all with a single rule. How very “pro-life” of them.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure in the United States. But a new Trump administration rule tells health care workers that they are barred from referring patients to safe, legal abortion providers if they want to receive federal Title X family planning funding. Title X funds go toward a variety of reproductive health services for the country’s poorest women: contraception, HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing, and cancer screenings, among others. These services save lives. They also help women plan their lives.
As a result of this new rule, Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers were given an impossible choice: They could have continued to receive Title X funds, but that would have required them not just to stop providing the safe, legal abortions to which American women are entitled but to refuse to even tell women where they could get legal abortion procedures.
That’s an unconscionable encroachment on free speech; it effectively gags doctors and nurses from giving patients accurate information about their completely legal health care options. And it puts women’s lives at risk. And so Planned Parenthood said no: They would not refuse women care, even in exchange for much-needed funding.
Planned Parenthood is one of the country’s largest providers of reproductive health services for poor women and often the sole Title X clinic in low-income rural areas. Forty percent of American women who receive health care via Title X get that care at Planned Parenthood. In Minnesota, for example, 90% of Title X patients are served by Planned Parenthood. In Utah, Planned Parenthood is the only Title X provider.
In a normal universe, this status would be commended, particularly by organizations that claim to value life and oppose abortion. Because while Planned Parenthood does indeed provide abortions, the organization is primarily in the business of providing STI tests and contraception: Nearly half of the services Planned Parenthood provides are STI tests, and 27% is contraception. Abortion accounts for only about 3%.
Contraception is the most effective way to prevent the unplanned pregnancies that women are likely to end. Other important services, like cervical cancer screenings, provide women with early diagnosis and ensure that children aren’t left motherless.
According to an estimate by the Guttmacher Institute, publicly funded contraceptive services prevented a whopping 1.9 million unintended pregnancies and 628,800 abortions in 2015, the last year for which these estimates are available. Without publicly funded contraception, the US unplanned pregnancy, birth and abortion rate would have been 67% higher. The rate for teens would have been up 102%.
Why, then, are anti-abortion groups cheering this move? Because it’s not about preventing abortions. It’s about controlling women’s lives.
The biggest anti-abortion groups in the United States – National Right to Life, the American Life League and a long list of others – are at best silent on contraception access and at worst hostile to it. The reason: These organizations, which often also adhere to traditional ideas from the past about gender and a nuclear family hierarchy, correctly see that contraception enables a variety of freedoms for women. Women who can plan their families and prevent pregnancy until they’re ready (or end a pregnancy they aren’t ready for) are less reliant on men. They are more economically independent. They have an easier time completing their educations and pursuing higher degrees.
They are also more likely to leave abusive relationships. According to one study of women living with domestic abusers, those who were able to obtain abortions were much more likely to leave the relationship than those who sought abortions but weren’t able to get them. The women who were forced to have children when they didn’t feel equipped to were also more likely to be impoverished and stuck with abusive men.
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Contraception isn’t just about preventing pregnancy. When women can make their own decisions about their own bodies and reproductive lives, they are more financially secure. They are physically safer. They have more room to grow and achieve what they want. This is what Title X, and Planned Parenthood, fight for: a universe in which women are the primary decision-makers about their own lives and their own bodies. That’s also what the Trump administration and its “pro-life” friends are fighting.
Refusing to provide abortions or even tell women where they can get one won’t prevent women from seeking abortions. It just shrouds the procedure in shame and stigma and encourages women to try to do it themselves – with potentially deadly results.
There is nothing life-affirming about this new rule. Its only result will be fewer poor women getting the services they need to prevent pregnancy and catch cancer early. It is a misogynist, hateful and dangerous step.