2018-08-01 / Editorials

Why I Oppose The Proposed Federal Gag Rule Tied To Health Clinic Funding

BY ASSEMBLY MEMBER ARAVELLA SIMOTAS

I have submitted a letter to the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services opposing the proposed restrictions on Title X funding, which would force doctors to withhold information about safe, legal medical procedures and threaten access to essential care for over four million Americans. Here’s why:

Proposed Gag Rule

The proposed restrictions amount to a gag rule, to prohibit providers from offering comprehensive medical information. It would require physical separation of abortion related activities and that represents a real threat to the survival of clinics my constituents rely on to meet their basic healthcare needs. Imposing these unnecessary restrictions on health care providers will drive up costs, unduly burden women who are already economically and socially disadvantaged, and exacerbate existing health disparities in our communities.

There are currently six Title X-funded clinics in Queens, including Planned Parenthood’s Diane L. Max Health Center bordering my district. These clinics are a lifeline for New Yorkers who are uninsured or underinsured. Queens has the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the city with 22 percent of adults lacking health insurance coverage, and that number rises even higher among young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Limiting Title X services will affect District 36 tremendously, as young people in this age range account for over 36 percent of the population.

Potential Effects of Proposed Gag Rule on the 36th NYS Assembly District

The proposed rules would have an unacknowledged impact on at-risk populations including immigrants, women of color, young people, and the uninsured. If providers are no longer able to participate in the Title X program and cannot be sustained without federal funding, how will the resulting gaps in care be filled for these groups? Do other community providers have the capacity to meet the potential increased demand?

An estimated 10,000 people in Queens rely on Title X clinics for contraceptive services each year, and limiting funding would increase rates of unintended pregnancies and associated health issues in our community. Reducing access to effective birth control, pregnancy testing and options counseling would contribute to higher rates of pre-term births and infant and maternal mortality. In addition to family planning services, this proposed gag rule would devastate efforts to expand screening and prevention for sexually transmitted infections and cancers. In the communities that I represent consisting of Astoria and Long Island City, teenaged girls are less likely to receive the CDC recommended series of human papillomavirus vaccines than their peers in other regions.

The Proposed Gag Rule is Uninformed and Unconstitutional

The proposal to lower quality standards for Title X grantees will open the door for deceptive “crisis pregnancy centers” to receive federal funding intended for clinics offering a broad range of contraceptive services. These anti-choice centers often have no medical staff present and use misleading tactics to prevent women from receiving the care they are seeking. HHS should assess the impact of allowing religious entities opposed to abortion and many forms of birth control to join the Title X program.

Finally, the proposed domestic gag rule is an unwarranted intrusion on free speech that places ideology over science. Forcing providers to withhold information infringes on the doctor-patient relationship and violates established principles of medical ethics and informed consent. Every patient should be able to trust that their doctor will provide them with unbiased, evidence-based medical counseling about their health care options. This rule would prevent physicians from fulfilling their obligation to answer their patients’ questions honestly and directly and offer accurate information about the full range of treatments available.

For more than 40 years, Title X clinics have provided critical care to patients in New York and throughout the country. As a result, rates of unintended pregnancies, teen pregnancies and abortions have all reached historic lows. As a daughter, mother, state legislator, and advocate for women’s health, I am proud to stand together with the medical community and my colleagues in government in urging rejection of this deeply flawed proposed rule.

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