For half a century, the federal Title X family planning program has offered a lifeline to underserved urban and rural communities, funding clinics that provide contraception, breast exams, screening for sexually transmitted disease and a measure of basic healthcare to 4 million people a year. Some of those clinics also provide abortions — but never with Title X dollars.
But providing an abortion is entirely different from providing information to a pregnant woman about her options—including, if she wants it, a referral to an abortion clinic.
For nearly two decades, providers were required to counsel pregnant patients, when they asked, on all their options, including abortion, without steering them to one or another. If a patient did ask for an abortion referral, the provider had to give her one. More recently, under the Affordable Care Act, healthcare providers in general have been required to offer all relevant information to patients. That certainly seems like it would include providing information on all options to pregnant women.
But under the new Trump administration rule, healthcare providers no longer must provide pregnancy counseling (although they may, as long as the counseling is neutral). And even though they are permitted to discuss abortion as part of that counseling, they are prohibited from providing referrals to abortion providers. The most that Title X providers are allowed to do for someone who asks for a referral to an abortion clinic is offer the patient a list of comprehensive primary healthcare providers. Some of the facilities on the list—“but not the majority,” according to the rule—can also provide abortions. Or none of them could. But the provider can’t point out which facility on the list offers abortions.
The rule is ludicrously restrictive. It’s also ludicrous to conclude, as the 9th Circuit did, that providing an abortion referral is tantamount to providing an abortion. It’s not.
Being truly pro-life means actively working to provide women—and men—with choices, choices given to individuals that lead to a society with many fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer women who have to face those pregnancies alone, with no support, no prospects, no other way out.
It means giving women the choice of low-cost—free would be better—safe and effective forms of contraception. It means offering both genders complete and judgment-free sex education at age-appropriate levels.
It means giving women the choice of living in a society where their male contemporaries are raised to respect women, not treat them as objects for sexual gratification, not abandon them or, worse, coerce them into having abortions.
It means the choice of living in a culture where tools of death don’t have more constitutional protections than women’s bodies.
It means the choice of living somewhere where laws governing reproductive physiology are not made by people who are astoundingly, if not willfully, ignorant of the subject. It means voting out lawmakers who really seem to think that women can fend off pregnancies created by “genuine rape,” that ectopic pregnancies can be surgically repositioned, that the vibration of fetal cells at six weeks’ gestation constitutes a “heartbeat.”
The goal of the current wave of state laws seeking to prohibit abortion in virtually all cases is not to reduce abortions. It is not to “respect life.”
It is to be cruel, to be coercive, to excite a political base, to pretend to solve a public health problem with law enforcement tools, to further boost mass incarceration, to Make America Great Again by making women legally inferior again.