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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Family-planning programs under assault by directive

The Trump administration’s announcement barring organizations that provide abortion referrals from receiving federal family planning money is an assault on women’s health care intended to funnel millions of dollars toward religious, anti-abortion groups.

The new federal directive, a domestic gag rule, in essence, will go into effect in late April and is expected to be immediately tied up in court. The theocratic intent behind the new federal rule is clear. House Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise boasted: “Importantly, faith-based health organizations will no longer be forced to compromise their pro-life principles to receive government funding.”

Under assault are the rights of the largely low-income population served by the federal family planning program known as Title X. Under Title X, organizations such as Planned Parenthood that get funds through the federal family planning program were already prohibited from using those funds for abortion services. Trump’s new rule, however, orders separate books and requires any clinic receiving Title X federal funds to perform abortions in distinct facilities, which is, of course, intended to shut down abortion care or contraceptive services — or both — by Planned Parenthood. Medical staff working in facilities receiving Title X support now will not even be able to refer patients for abortions.

Planned Parenthood receives about $60 million a year of Title X’s $286 million budget to provide contraception, breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Currently, 1.6 million people receive coverage through Planned Parenthood — often the only such provider in many areas of the nation.

President Reagan in 1988 also barred Title X clinics from referring or counseling about abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the domestic gag order in 1991, but, fortunately, the George H.W. Bush administration did not implement it, and President Clinton rescinded the rule in 1993.

“The domestic gag order will egregiously interfere with a woman’s rights of conscience and privacy, and is unconscionable,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And it’s also unconscionable that the federal rule is intended to fund overtly religious groups seeking to miseducate, judge and deny women true health care and choices.”

Nothing could be more irrational than for anti-abortion groups or politicians to oppose contraception. To state the obvious, contraception, however imperfect, is the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortion. Yet thanks to a cabal of Catholic bishops and Protestant fundamentalists, Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate has been in the theocratic crosshairs since it was unveiled. The right of women workers to receive insurance coverage for prescription contraception of their choice was seriously eroded by the Supreme Court when it “blessed” a corporation’s “religious” right to deny women workers insurance coverage if the corporation disapproves of their contraception choice.

As Margaret Sanger, the freethinker who founded Planned Parenthood, observed, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”

FFRF’s electronic marquee on the side of Freethought Hall in Madison, Wis., recently backed Planned Parenthood.