Despite Congressional approval of renewed funding for family planning programs, the war on birth control is not shutting down; it is quietly revving up, with new assaults on Title X, which supports family planning clinics serving 3 million low-income households, and other fronts.
Congressional appropriators rejected Trump administration proposals that would have drastically cut back federal funding for contraception and evidence-based sex education programs in the schools. Congress passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that funds those programs through September. The President signed it, but his administration is doing its best to delay, halt, or redirect the monies provided for family planning.
In his first year in office, Trump issued executive orders that scaled back America’s commitment to family planning. He suspended U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund, a major provider of contraceptive services to women in developing countries and refugee camps. He also re-imposed and vastly extended the reach of the “global gag rule,” which forbids the State Department and USAID from funding overseas health care providers if they advocate for, or refer patients to, legal abortion services. Despite the adverse impact on women, Mike Pompeo is a big supporter of that rule. If approved as Secretary of State he would oversee the Office of Global Women’s Issues.
In the past ten months, the administration’s war on birth control has gone under bureaucratic cover, shifting its focus to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Last year HHS administrators sought to redirect funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program, which was set up to support “evidence-based” sex education, to “abstinence-only” programs, which have never been shown to be effective in reducing teen pregnancies. The move is being fought in the courts. In the meantime, however, grantees are in bureaucratic limbo.
HHS also delayed putting out annual grant application guidelines for Title X. Typically the Title X grant cycle begins in early November. This year, HHS officials delayed updating application guidelines until late February. HHS also rewrote the guidelines to favor entities promoting abstinence and “fertility awareness.” Shockingly, the guidelines omitted any reference to modern methods of contraception.
That was no accident. Title X is administered by Valerie Huber, the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS. Prior to her appointment, Huber was president of Ascend, an organization which promotes abstinence until marriage and champions “abstinence-only” sex education. Under her direction, the whole purpose—and future—of Title X is being subverted.
Last week the conservative House Republican Study Committee urged HHS to ban Title X clinics from referring patients to abortion services, and to require they be physically and financially separate from facilities that provide abortions. The proposed restrictions would all apply to all clinics, not only those operated by Planned Parenthood.
These proposed changes have a common agenda: curbing sexual activity inside and outside marriage, by limiting access to family planning. That runs counter to public opinion and the will of Congress, but Huber and other Trump administration appointees don’t seem to care: it plays well with the president’s narrow political base.
Despite some setbacks, the Trump administration’s relentless war on birth control is having an impact. America’s reproductive health and rights are under unprecedented assault. Several states have cut funding for Planned Parenthood clinics or other family planning providers serving low-income women. In the Population Institute’s most recent “50-State Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights,” 18 states received a failing grade and the U.S. as a whole was downgraded to a “D-”.
In the ongoing, senseless war on birth control, there will be no winners. The result will only be more unplanned pregnancies, more teen pregnancies, and more abortions.
This op-ed by Population Institute President Robert Walker originally ran on April 18, 2018 in Thompson Reuters Foundation News