A second federal judge has blocked a gag rule that would have stripped federal funding known as Title X for Planned Parenthood and other clinics that refer patients for abortions or even mention abortion as an option. The judge’s ruling halts the rule, which was announced by President Trump in February and was scheduled to go into effect on May 3. Washington state Federal Judge Stanley Bastian ruled against the changes to Title X funding Thursday, saying they would require clinics “to face a Hobson’s choice that harms patients as well as the providers.” This came two days after an Oregon judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop the gag order from going into effect, calling the rule a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy.” Title X covers non-abortion services like STD prevention, cancer screenings and contraception, and provides over $280 million in funding for 4 million mostly low-income women every year. We speak with the president of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Leana Wen. She says the gag rule would force doctors “to compromise the oath that we took to serve our patients.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn to the Trump administration’s attack on reproductive rights here in the United States. A second federal judge has blocked a gag rule that would have stripped federal funding known as Title X for Planned Parenthood and other clinics that refer patients for abortion or even mention abortion as an option. The judge’s ruling halts the gag rule, which was announced by President Trump in February and was scheduled to go into effect May 3rd. Washington state Federal Judge Stanley Bastian ruled against the changes to Title X funding Thursday, saying they would require clinics “to face a Hobson’s choice that harms patients as well as the providers.” This came two days after an Oregon judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop the gag order from going into effect, calling the rule a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy.” Oregon Federal Judge Michael McShane said, quote, “At the heart of these rules is an arrogant assumption that the government is better suited to direct women’s health care than their providers,” he said.
Title X covers non-abortion services like STD prevention, cancer screenings, contraception; provides over $280 million in funding for 4 million mostly low-income women every year.
Talk about the significance of what happened this week in two states, two federal judges saying no to the Trump administration, and what the Trump administration is trying to do with this gag order that was supposed to go into effect next week, Dr. Wen.
DR. LEANA WEN: What the Trump administration is trying to do with this gag rule is to prevent doctors from fulfilling our ethical obligation. When I became a doctor, I took an oath that I would always provide honest, full and accurate information to my patients. To restrict what I can say, to have the Trump administration or any politician telling me what I can and cannot say to my patients, is just unethical, unconscionable and, frankly, unthinkable. This is the reason why over a hundred medical, nursing, public health groups, including the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, have stood up in strong opposition to this Title X gag rule, because we know that it would force us to compromise the oath that we took to serve our patients, and also that it would not happen for any other aspect of healthcare. I mean, how ludicrous would it be if doctors now cannot tell our patients who come for insulin and who have diabetes—if we cannot tell them about where they can go to get insulin, a life-saving and life-changing treatment?
And so, this ruling is important because it is a preliminary injunction that blocks this gag rule from taking effect. It also continues to allow Planned Parenthood and other health centers to continue serving millions of patients around the country who depend on us for primary and preventive services. As you said, Amy, Title X provides for affordable birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, STI treatment, HIV testing. In many parts of the country, this is the only way that individuals with low income, who live in rural areas, are able to get access to healthcare. And taking that away, we know the consequence, which is that people are going to delay getting healthcare. Cancers are going to end up getting diagnosed later. There will be increased rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies. That’s what happens when people cannot get the reproductive healthcare that they need.
AMY GOODMAN: So, again, give us the scenario. A woman comes into your office, and she says, “What are my options?” If this gag rule were in effect, if she’s just learned that she was pregnant, you, as a doctor, would not be able to even say—forget referring her somewhere or to a Planned Parenthood clinic even, you couldn’t even say, “Your options are keeping the baby or terminating the pregnancy”? You couldn’t say “terminating the pregnancy,” “abortion”?
DR. LEANA WEN: Well, here’s the thing. Congress has made it very clear, by passing laws about it before, that physicians and nurses and providers must be able to provide the full range of options, because that’s what medicine is about. It’s not up to me as the doctor to tell my patients what they should do. My obligation is to provide all the information and empower my patients to make the best decisions for themselves.
Under this gag rule, if a patient came to me and I work at a clinic that receives Title X federal funding, I would not even be able to provide a referral to a woman even if she’s specifically asking for a referral for abortion care. And it’s not even clear what I would be allowed to do if it’s medically necessary in order to save her health; if she has a life-threatening condition, a condition that threatens her health, if I’m able to make referral in that case.
And I want to point out not only how unethical this is, but also how discriminatory it is, too, because this is saying that if you are a person who’s wealthy, if you have private insurance, you can still go to your doctor and get accurate medical information and the healthcare that you need. But if you are a woman of low income, if you are a family with low income, not only can you not get healthcare access, but you would not even be able to get accurate information from your doctor. This is just one more example from the Trump-Pence administration of a discriminatory policy that would worsen health outcomes and worsen disparities for those who already face disproportionate barriers to care. The people who receive Title X are those who are uninsured, those who live in out-of-the-way, rural areas. It’s people of color. It’s people who already face these barriers.
And it also puts providers into an impossible position, because either you continue to serve patients or you’re forced to compromise your ethics. And from our standpoint in Planned Parenthood, we cannot accept these gagged funds. We would never force our doctors to censor themselves. We would never provide care to our patients that’s anything less than full, accurate, honest, the same compassionate, high-quality, nonjudgmental care that we provide through our 600 health centers across the country now.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the global gag rule. Shortly after his inauguration in January 2017, President Trump reinstated this controversial global gag rule, the policy originating in the Reagan era banning U.S. funding for any international healthcare group that performs abortion, advocates for the legalization of abortion or even mentions it, even if those activities are funded by non-U.S. money. Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer commented on that decision.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Well, I think the president, it’s no secret, has made himself—made it very clear that he’s a pro-life president. He wants to stand up for all Americans, including the unborn. And I think the reinstatement of this policy is not just something that echoes that value, but respects taxpayer funding, as well, and ensures that we’re standing up not just for life, for life of the unborn, but for also taxpayer funds that are being spent overseas to perform an action that is contrary to the values of this president, and, I think, continue to further illustrate, not just to the folks here in this country, but around the world, of what a value we place on life.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a familiar voice to many, though no longer there, the former press spokesperson for President Trump, Sean Spicer. Dr. Leana Wen, what this means globally, and also for the many groups, explain Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s role globally.
DR. LEANA WEN: Well, I just have to point out the hypocrisy here, because if we truly were to value life, we would be looking to expand access to healthcare, not gut it. Let’s look right here in the U.S. as an example. We have rising maternal mortality right here in the U.S. American women are 50% more likely to die in childbirth than our mothers were. We are the only industrialized country where maternal mortality is going up. African-American women in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth and thereafter than white women. A woman in Georgia is 10 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in California. Look at what this administration is trying to do right here in the U.S., which is cutting healthcare access, taking away access to birth control, taking away and sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, that provides care to women, that also allows for women to receive care in pregnancy, and gutting, dismantling Medicaid, that provides care to low-income women, families and children.
I mean, there’s huge hypocrisy right here in the U.S., but that hypocrisy we’ve seen time and time again, and actually first with this Trump-Pence administration’s policies globally. One of the first things that this administration did was to reinstate and expand the global gag rule. And we’ve already seen the impact of this gag rule, because they have taken away funding from clinics, health centers, organizations, that even offer information about abortion care and the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, which is what abortion is. Abortion is a standard medical procedure that’s part of the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare. And for many people, it is lifesaving. It is a critical procedure. It is a critical part of modern medicine. We’ve seen what happens when people, internationally, do not have access to safe, legal abortions. Actually one-tenth of maternal mortality globally is due to unsafe abortions. Thirty thousand women die every year around the world because they do not have access to safe, legal abortions.
And by the Trump-Pence administration imposing a global gag rule, not only are they worsening maternal mortality globally, in the U.S., what they’re also doing, too, is to take away funding from organizations that provide care for patients with HIV/AIDS, that look to prevent STIs and HIV worldwide. And there are health centers and clinics and organizations that have had to close their doors around the world, that provide food and nutrition assistance to families, that provide care to individuals with HIV infection. And what this Trump-Pence administration is doing is worsening health. And so, I find it extremely hypocritical that they get to call themselves “pro-life,” when what they are doing is worsening health outcomes and leading to more people dying in the U.S. and around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go beyond Trump’s gag rule, just the latest in a series of attacks on reproductive rights here in the United States, as 28 states, more than half the states, consider legislation to ban or restrict abortion in various ways. Among the slew of strategies are trigger bans, to make abortion completely illegal in a state should Roe v. Wade be overturned, and six-week abortion bans. Earlier this month, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law a six-week abortion ban, what some call the fetal heartbeat bill. It bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, something that typically happens just six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even realize they’re pregnant. The bill does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest. A similar law is set to take effect in Mississippi in July, while judges have for now blocked these six-week bills from going into effect in Kentucky and Iowa. Can you talk more about this? And I know that you at Planned Parenthood don’t like to refer to these six-week abortion bans as “fetal heartbeat” bills, and if you can explain why?
DR. LEANA WEN: Well, I’m a doctor and a scientist, and I have to call it as it is. And what it is, what these bills are, are essentially a ban on all abortions, because, at six weeks, most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant. And we’ve seen, this year, 16 states introduce bans on abortions as early as six weeks.
And we need to call out how extreme these bans are. The bill that passed in Georgia, is expected to be signed by the governor any day now, allows the state to investigate women for miscarriages. In Alabama, there is a bill that would impose a Class A felony on doctors, sentencing doctors who perform abortions to up to 99 years in prison. There was a bill in Texas—that failed—but that bill would have the—would impose a death penalty, capital punishment, the death penalty, for women who seek abortion care. And more than 300 people came to testify in favor of this bill that would impose the death penalty on women.
If there’s any doubt about what’s happening around the country, we just have to look at the legislation that’s been introduced this year, and what politicians, these anti-women’s health politicians, are saying about it. They are saying, blatantly, boldly, that what they are trying to do is to overturn Roe v. Wade. They want for these extreme bills to make their way up to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. And that’s what’s at stake here. What’s at stake is the right to safe, legal abortions. And we know what happens when that right is taken away, because we have the examples around the world and we know what happened in the U.S. pre-Roe, which is that thousands of women died. And we cannot go back to that time.
And that’s why Planned Parenthood is fighting back with everything that we have. We are opposing these rules. We’ve fought back many of these bad bills. And we’re also working with our champions across the country to protect and expand the right to reproductive healthcare, because we know that reproductive healthcare and women’s healthcare must be treated as what they are, which is healthcare, and that the vast majority of the American people support women making their own healthcare decisions, not politicians telling women and families what we should be doing with our health and our bodies.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Leana Wen, we want to thank you so much for being with us, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, first physician to lead the organization in nearly 50 years, also the first Asian American and first immigrant ever to hold that office.