On Wednesday, June 19, 2019, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce met to discuss the Department of Health and Human Services new Title X regulation, dubbed as the ‘gag-rule’, that would ‘gag’ health care providers who are Title X funded from telling their patients how and where they can safely and legally access abortions; would prevent patients from getting full and accurate information on all their options; and would block patients, especially those in low-income and rural areas, from accessing the full spectrum of reproductive health care.
Diane Foley, the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Population Affairs Director, Office of Adolescent Health was the main witness during the congressional hearing today and was asked to explain and defend HHS’s new regulation in front of the committee. When prompted on the ‘gag-rule’, Dr. Foley denied it being such a thing, despite numerous repeating of the fact that the new regulation would block health providers from speaking on abortion as an option. When prompted to respond to why HHS created this new regulation, she cited unfounded but heavy concerns on possible co-mingling of funds from clinics that are Title X funded and those that are not. Many of the committee members brought to Dr. Foley’s attention the lack of proper evidence that would support these concerns raised by the HHS and mentioned the 19 national health associations that have spoken out against this new regulation. Dr. Foley, and by extension the HHS, refused to acknowledge this.
What this administration and HHS has done with this new regulation is turn the conversation and the funding from Title X onto abortion, when in reality Title X is about giving women choices in their reproductive health. Title X provides grants to clinics that deal with family planning issues. Since its creation in the 70s, it has been explicit in the statutory laws that Title X grant money cannot go towards abortions. In the 50 years since the passing of Title X, there has never been a single case, or any evidence of the grant money being used towards abortions. Despite this, the current administration has implemented new regulations to Title X.
In 2016 alone, health centers used Title X funding to provide 720,000 Pap tests, more than four million STD tests (including HIV tests) and nearly one million breast exams. According to the Center for American Progress, women’s health centers that receive money from Title X prevent 1 million unintended pregnancies each year that would have resulted in 501,000 unplanned births and 345,000 abortions. By passing this measure, the Senate is once again opening the doors to allow states to bar women’s healthcare providers from funds that pay for STI/STD treatments and birth control, not because they are unqualified providers, but because they also happen to offer abortion services through non-governmental funding.
Media Resources: House of Representatives 6/19/19; Health and Human Services, 2014, 2016, 6/19/19; Planned Parenthood 3/7/19; Feminist News Wire 3/31/17