August in Washington: The weather is hot and muggy; Congress is in on recess; and people are away and traffic is lighter.
Mimicking the Global Gag Rule that prevents overseas health-care providers from presenting their patients a full set of reproductive health options, the administration has enacted what amounts to a domestic gag rule that restricts free speech and freedom of choice within our own country. Clinics receiving family planning grants to provide contraception, STD tests and other much-needed services to low-income patients will have to stop providing abortion referrals or lose their funding.
Catholics in particular should be especially angered by people trampling the rights of the already downtrodden. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, Catholics use birth control and Catholics also access Title X services.
Ninety-eight percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of birth control banned by the Vatican. Though our own church hierarchy has labored to prevent Catholics in the pews from using birth control and historically overridden rights, choice and conscience, they failed.
Catholics follow their own conscience. We have fought the church in many parts of the world for failing repeatedly to listen to the voice of the people. But, when any government — especially one established by and for the people — fails to listen to those people, it is beyond despicable. We will not stand by and watch what the Trump administration is doing to hurt poor people.
President Trump doesn’t care about women’s reproductive health. The issue is merely a pawn in his moves to placate conservative supporters. He has turned administration of the wildly successful and popular Title X program over to ultraconservative extremists interested only in eviscerating the program originally established under President Nixon to ensure equitable access to birth control.
In 2017, Title X-funded providers served 4,004,246 patients. Six in ten women receiving contraceptive care at a Title X-supported health care center report that provider was their sole source of medical care in the previous year. Sixty-seven percent of Title X patients had incomes at or below the poverty level.
Restricting services provided by Title X providers would give the least among us even less. It would rob us of compassionate caregivers and educators. It would punish the most vulnerable, taking away their ability to make reproductive decisions according to their own conscience.
We believe every woman has the ability to decide to be pregnant or not, and to protect herself from sexually transmitted infections. Our laws should make this possible for everyone, no matter what their means, where they live, or what they believe.
Without relief from the courts which is unlikely to materialize, family planning clinics that choose to meet the needs of their patients and not abide by the gag rule will be forced out of the Title X.
Cheating millions of vulnerable Americans of the ability to exercise their conscience and access birth control and other reproductive health services is unconscionable. Catholics for Choice calls on Americans who support, affordable reproductive health care to contact their members of congress to protect Title X and safeguard access to birth control regardless of one’s means.
This op-ed was originally published on The Hill.