The following editorial was published by the Des Moines Register on Aug. 27:
Good for Planned Parenthood. The health provider has the integrity and backbone to withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program rather than comply with a new Trump administration rule forbidding health professionals from telling women where they can obtain abortions.
The rule is nothing other than a gag order on doctors. And it reaches far beyond Planned Parenthood. That’s why all health providers participating in Title X, including dozens in Iowa, should reject the federal money and ludicrous new strings.
Title X provides grant money to clinics to fund limited health services, including birth control, for low-income and uninsured patients. It does not pay for abortions, and Planned Parenthood in Iowa uses its grant money — about $1 million — to serve roughly 14,000 patients. Losing that money means reducing services to patients, which will likely lead to more untreated sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
These are among the consequences of elections. When voters support Republicans intent on pushing an extreme anti-abortion agenda, other health care, including access to birth control or cancer screenings, gets caught in the cross hairs. Women are usually the victims.
But the latest GOP stunt stifles the speech of doctors, who should not just quietly go along. Health providers need to stand together against an administrative muzzle that interferes with their ability to practice medicine with honesty and transmit basic facts to patients. Because what will the Trump administration tell doctors to shut up about next? What may it force them to tell patients?
If a patient is seeking an abortion, a doctor should be able to tell her where she can get one, the same way a doctor recommends a physical therapist, cardiologist or other health care provider.
Des Moines OB/GYN Amy Bingaman, who has delivered thousands of babies, recently told a Register editorial writer she was grateful she could refer patients to Planned Parenthood, which she called a “wonderful” provider. She works for UnityPoint, a health system that operates nearly 300 clinics in Iowa and Illinois.
Following an interview with Bingaman, a Register editorial writer asked UnityPoint if it prohibited its practitioners from providing abortions. Doctors need to know the policies of their employers after the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature blocked another source of federal funding to pay for any health services at clinics that also offer abortions.
To UnityPoint’s credit, it said it would not restrict its physicians from providing care they determine to be medically necessary, so long as it’s within the scope of their licensure and the law.
Abortion, usually performed on an outpatient basis, is a legal, safe medical procedure. Early pregnancies can be terminated with medication. OB/GYNs have the training and equipment to offer abortions, and more of them should do so.
But too many do not. They refer patients to Planned Parenthood. Under the new Trump administration rule, doctors could not even do that. There is no way any health system can comply with the new Title X rule and do right by its employees and patients.
What can the rest of us do?
Patronize providers who reject a political agenda seeking to harm patients and restrict the autonomy of physicians. Visit Planned Parenthood for pap smears and other services. Its clinics serve men and women of all ages. Reject health systems that do not offer all forms of birth control. Put your health insurance reimbursements where your values are, by using your coverage to directly pay providers so they don’t have to rely on federal grants.
If you don’t have health insurance, sign up for it using exchanges and the Medicaid expansion made possible by the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by former President Obama.
Support health providers who support women, and vote against politicians who don’t. Because the Trump administration rule isn’t just another tired attempt by the GOP to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. It is much more. It is an attempt to control the speech and practices of physicians in this country. It is a ploy to interfere with doctor-patient relationships. It is an assault on the expertise and independence of our medical professionals.
And it cannot be tolerated by any of us.