On Wednesday, the Biden Administration announced that they would be taking steps to undo the Trump-era domestic “gag” rule, which prevented clinics that referred patients for abortions from receiving federal funding.
The proposed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule would revoke the Trump restrictions eventually, but not immediately. If implemented, the rule will return the program to the way it was run up until 2019, when the Trump administration altered the rules.
“Advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality, is a priority for OPA [the HHS Office of Population Affairs] and the Title X program,” HHS wrote in the proposal. “By focusing on advancing equity in the Title X program, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone,” the agency wrote.
Title X is a critical funder of thousands of providers offering contraception, cancer screening, and other reproductive health services to millions of low-income people of all genders throughout the country.
In 2019, when Trump issued the domestic gag rule, about one-quarter of the nearly 4,000 providers left the program, arguing that the rule was unethical. Because of this, several states had no Title X providers.
In California, 36% of its Title X service sites withdrew from the program, which resulted in over 700,000 patients losing access to Title X-funded care.
“As a result of the dramatic decline in Title X services provided, the 2019 Final Rule undermined the mission of the Title X program by helping fewer individuals in planning and spacing births, providing fewer preventive health services, and delivering fewer screenings” for sexually transmitted infections, HHS said in the proposal.
Biden’s reversal of Trump’s rule will particularly impact communities of color, especially Black patients. Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement that “This rule especially harmed people who already face barriers to care, including people of color, patients with a low income, and those who are uninsured. Everyone deserves quality health care, which includes receiving accurate information about abortion. That’s true now more than ever – in the midst of a public health and economic crisis, people need the important care that Title X health centers provide. We’re glad the Biden Administration is moving to restore this program and we will continue to fight for quality care alongside the Biden-Harris administration, Title X family planning providers, and their patients.”
Sources: The Hill 4/14/21; Ms. Magazine 4/14/21