Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Bastian in Yakima issued a nationwide preliminary injunction to stop the Trump administration’s unlawful Title X family planning rule changes from taking effect in early May, bringing welcome relief to family-planning providers across the country and their patients. While we celebrate, we know our fight against the most significant attack on the nation’s family-planning program is just getting started.
Every day, women, men and teens visit family-planning centers across Washington state and in communities nationwide — knowing they can have safe, confidential conversations with a health-care provider whom they trust with their sexual and reproductive health.
At the heart of these patients’ experiences has been the Title X family-planning program, which serves more than 4 million low-income people and helps support more than 3,800 health centers across the country, allowing health-care professionals to prioritize privacy and provide honest information for the patients they serve in small towns and big cities alike.
As the executive director of health-care centers here in Washington state and the CEO of the national organization representing family-planning health centers, we are unified in the Title X commitment to prioritize every individual’s unique health needs and desires and offer access to the health care people need as they think about when and whether to have a family — now, later, or ever.
Four in 10 patients say their Title X health center is their sole source of care in a given year. In Washington alone, more than 91,000 patients were served though Title X in 2017. Federal data show that the program was responsible for more than 1.5 million cervical and breast cancer screening services necessary for early detection and treatment and several million sexually transmitted infections/diseases and HIV services including testing necessary for preventing disease transmission and adverse health consequences.
Yet, in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the nationwide network of family-planning providers and the trusted, confidential care they provide, the Trump administration issued harmful regulations that aim to upend the program’s guiding principles, leaving some patients without care and crippling others’ ability to make fully informed health-care decisions.
Health-care providers are privileged to have patients trust them with the intimate details of their lives and their care. In return, we treat them with respect, assure their privacy, and give them complete and honest information about their health care. The new rule, if it takes effect, would require providers to withhold information from patients seen in a Title X-funded health center.
We hope the courts will continue to block the new rule, but if it were allowed to take effect it would create a tiered system that disproportionately impacts low-income patients, people of color and those who live in areas with limited health resources. Patients with health insurance will continue to get complete information from their health-care providers, as their communication with patients will not be subject to these new guidelines.
However, the rule weakens the guarantee that low-income patients will be able to access robust family-planning and sexual-health services, and minors will be pushed to have their families involved in their most private conversations. Even upon a patient’s request, our medical professionals will be precluded from offering certain information and support. The government has no place in the exam room with medical providers and their patients.
Equally troubling is the removal of the longstanding requirement that providers share with their pregnant patients all of their options including abortion. Making this counseling optional, and not allowing providers to offer abortion referrals, will spur inconsistency across the network of providers and leave patients’ without comprehensive information or true support.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane in Oregon granted a second nationwide preliminary injunction. Courts in Washington and Oregon are sending a clear message to this administration that it will not get away with making harmful changes to the nation’s family-planning program. But we face a long road ahead to protect Title X from ideological attacks that loom. With our allies, we will fight to protect access and ensure the Title X network can continue to deliver essential care to millions of people across the country and those here in Washington.