Proposed Funding for Women’s Health Would Lead to ‘Contraception Deserts’
Religious conservatives, with the help of President Donald Trump’s administration, are working to ensure that the future of women’s sexual health care in America will not include contraceptives. The administration is proposing massive changes to Title X, a $280 million program that is currently the only source of federal funding for birth control for low-income women without health insurance.
If the changes are passed, Kaiser Health News reports, clinics receiving these funds can screen for sexually transmitted infections, HIV and cervical cancer and provide prenatal care, but they will not be able to provide birth control, contributing to what Kaiser calls “contraception deserts.”
For decades after Title X was passed, clinics were required to provide a full range of medically approved contraceptives, such as condoms, birth control pills, intrauterine devices and implants. The funding does cover abortion.
Contraception used to have widespread support across political parties, Kaiser explains, even as Americans remained fiercely divided on abortion. That changed in 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that all health care plans under the law must provide coverage for contraception. That energized religious conservatives, and, Kaiser observes, “the politics of abortion and birth control converged.”
Now, as Title X is under the control of Dr. Diane Foley, the former chief executive of Life Network, a conservative Christian organization that operates anti-abortion women’s health centers, the Trump administration is expected to adopt new rules that divert funding away from contraception.
The new restrictions, called Protect Life Rule, are, as Kaiser reports, “aimed at narrowing women’s access to clinics that discuss or refer patients to abortion providers.” Kaiser continues:
The Trump administration has worked quickly to shape women’s reproductive health care, rolling back an Obama-era rule that required employers to cover contraception in their health insurance plans and nominating to the Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who referred to common forms of contraception as ‘abortion-inducing drugs’ during his confirmation hearing.
The Protect Life Rule would support clinics whose sole form of pregnancy prevention are fertility planning methods that rely on women tracking their periods and refraining from sex at certain particularly fertile times of their menstrual cycle.
Similar rules are already in place in Texas, where in 2011 lawmakers cut funding for family planning clinics by 66 percent. Over 80 clinics closed, and the impact was swift. Kaiser observes that “the vast geography combined with widespread clinic closures means that some 10 million Texans live at least half an hour from a clinic, a common standard used to determine health care shortages. It’s a phenomenon some call ‘contraception deserts.’ ”
The operators of these anti-contraception clinics say they are simply offering an alternative to Planned Parenthood. “A woman needs choice, but you can’t have a choice if the only clinic that a woman can go to is Planned Parenthood,” Kathleen Bravo, chief executive of the Obria Group, a company in the midst of expanding its clinics. She added that women “don’t want to live every day having to take a carcinogen,” referring to hormonal birth control, which, as a Harvard study showed this year, has a “weak link” to cancer.
Ofelia Alonso, a 22-year-old community organizer living in Texas, is worried about her options for the future. “It’s like abstinence only, and then, crisis pregnancy centers, anti-abortion propaganda, defunding our family clinics. So what is left for us?” Alonso told Kaiser. “We’re going to have these weird centers where you can’t get anything?”
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