EDITORIAL: Gag rule won’t work

SOME DOCTORS HAVE a great bedside manner, others can be a cold fish. Those distinctions matter when it comes to communicating and healing but they are not as important as trust. We expect that physicians will recommend what they believe is in our best interests. Not what drug companies want to sell us, not what’s best for the provider’s college loan debt and certainly not what the federal government decides is the most politically expedient medical advice.

But the Trump administration is now enforcing a new rule that would put the president’s views in the doctor’s office of Planned Parenthood by not allowing the organization’s healthcare providers to identify which specialists offer a full range of options, including abortions. The method of enforcing this new restriction lies in a longstanding federal funding source called Title X (the Roman numeral for 10).

Title X helps Planned Parenthood nationwide fund many essential health services to poor and low-income women: things like tests for pregnancy and for sexually transmitted infections, cancer screening and birth control. The funding may not be used for abortions, a prohibition that Planned Parenthood and other providers observe by having separate abortion services. But this new effort would restrict Planned Parenthood providers from referring patients to what could be the most appropriate services. That would punish patients.

The Title X rules confront the organization with an ethical bind. Either it can agree to the new restrictions and provide incomplete information to women seeking professional medical advice or it can refuse to abide by the new rules and lose millions of dollars in federal funding. This week Planned Parenthood chose to keep telling women what they need to know.

Even supporters of the president acknowledge that truth-telling is not welcome in the current administration. No one can talk about the climate crisis, election meddling by foreign powers, etc. But this is not just another power struggle in Washington, DC. It’s local. There’s a new Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood facility in Hudson, which opened this spring. It’s a busy place. Last year, when the organization was still at its former site in Greenport, it had 1,291 patient visits.

And it will remain busy for the immediate future even with the cuts. In New York state the Title X grants come to the state Department of Health, which distributes them to Planned Parenthood’s regional chapters, like Upper Hudson. And this latest attack on Title X didn’t come as a surprise, says Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th), whose district includes the City of Hudson and all of southern Columbia County.

“When the US Department of Health and Human Services announced this rule change in February, my fellow legislators and I knew we needed to be proactive and ensure providers like Planned Parenthood can continue operating without federal aid. We passed a state budget that includes up to $16 million to be used for emergency funding,” she said this week.

She said Governor Cuomo has not yet released the funds and urged him to use the money now.

Both Ms. Barrett and Robin Chappelle Golston, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, a non-profit advocacy organization that represents Planned Parenthood in this state, call the latest Title X changes a “gag rule.”

Ms. Chappelle Golston said that the legislature created the contingency fund in this year’s budget “as a safeguard should litigation efforts to block the gag rule fail. Now, with the gag rule in effect, we are working closely with state leadership to protect access to care for all New Yorkers who need it, regardless of federal action.”

No matter where you stand on Planned Parenthood, think how this plays out as an economic issue. We live in a state with the political will to fund basic health care services for economically disadvantaged women. Suddenly, we New Yorkers will pay $16 million more for those services because the federal government just wiggled of out them by, in effect, compelling Planned Parenthood to reject Title X grants.

There’s a pattern here. It feels a lot like the way this administration treated the people of upstate New York when we were no longer allowed to deduct state and local taxes from our income tax as part of the president’s tax bill. The rich got richer. Everybody else? Not much at all.

This gag rule won’t end legal abortions. If anything, it will make Planned Parenthood stronger, more resilient and less constrained by federal regulation. It will also needlessly burden this state’s taxpayers for what should be the responsibility of the whole nation.

Tell the Governor to release the funds.

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