OPINION: Gag rule is a direct attack from Washington on women's health care

By Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Laura McQuade, Lisa David and Dr. Mitchell Katz 

MAY 21, 2018

Any day now, the Trump administration is expected to propose a new rule designed to make it impossible for patients to get birth control or preventive care from reproductive health care providers like Planned Parenthood and organizations that provide complete, high quality, medically appropriate sexual and reproductive health care services.

This is an attack on all women, and especially on communities of color and those with low incomes. All people deserve the right to access quality, compassionate, affordable health care.

The federal Title X family planning program serves 4 million people annually and exists to help ensure that every person — regardless of where they live, their income, their background and whether or not they have health insurance — has access to basic preventive and reproductive health care, like birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and annual health exams.

As public health leaders committed to ensuring access to quality, compassionate health care in New York City and beyond, we condemn this outrageous attack on the health and safety of our communities. Undermining the basic health care relied on by millions of people is wrong, and it is a threat to our city's public health.

Under this anticipated rule, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and community health centers across the United States would be forced to choose between receiving federal family planning funding, or freely providing the full range of options that patients deserve, including abortion services, referrals to safe, legal abortion providers, and complete and accurate information about care options.

For nearly two decades, Title X law has been clear: health care providers cannot withhold information from patients about pregnancy options, including abortion. This proposed new rule ends that protection.

Major medical associations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, oppose this rule. In fact, when a similar version of this rule was introduced in the 1980s, it was met with tremendous outcry and opposition from the medical community, and was ultimately, and rightly, shelved.

In New York State, more than 300,000 people receive care annually at Title X-funded health centers. In New York City alone, 150,000 people rely on Title X for their sexual and reproductive health care. More than half of the people who rely on the Title X program nationwide are people of color: 21 percent of all Title X clients identify as Black or African American, and 32 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. Twenty-two New York City health care providers receive Title X funding, including Planned Parenthood of New York City, 10 NYC Health + Hospital sites, and other community-based providers.

Since day one, the Trump administration has pushed policy after policy to take away our basic health care, rights and freedoms. In addition to trying to eliminate the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, it has already sabotaged protections for survivors of sexual assault on campus; attempted to kick millions of people off their health insurance; implemented a rule that would allow employers to decide whether or not their employees' birth control is covered by insurance; and tried time and time again to prevent patients from coming to Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that offer evidence-based sexual and reproductive health care.

New Yorkers — and Americans — won't stop until every woman, person of color, immigrant, LGBTQ person, and others being targeted by the Trump-Pence administration can control our bodies and our lives. We stand with you, we will fight for you, and we are more committed than ever to ensuring that health care is never a victim of political warfare.

Bassett is New York City Health Commissioner. McQuade is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. David is president and CEO of Public Health Solutions. Katz is the president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals.