Title X ‘gag rule’: the future of Planned Parenthood

“I went [to Planned Parenthood] the first time I had sex and I just wanted to make sure that everything was okay,” said “Sarah,” a senior at Redwood who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Sarah is one of millions of teens who visit Planned Parenthood for Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and pregnancy tests yearly, wanting to be safe and responsible. 

According to a 2018 report published by Planned Parenthood, the organization performs a total of 9,687,070 services every year. These services include birth control, STI tests, breast exams, abortions, hormone therapy, infertility treatments and general healthcare. The nonprofit organization provides a variety of solutions for both women and men of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, most of which are federally funded through the Title X Program. 

Created by President Richard Nixon in 1970 as part of the Public Health Service Act, Title X is a federal grant program that provides confidential and comprehensive family planning services to people in low-income areas. Specifically, it supports operational needs such as patient education and informational technology that are not supported by Medicaid and private insurance.

In light of changing policies, however, this type of confidential care is in jeopardy. A recent “gag rule” organized by the Trump Administration could jeopardize the future of Planned Parenthood because it prevents any institution funded by Title X to perform abortions or refer patients to abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood could either remain a member of Title X and continue receiving funds but compromise their confidentiality policy, or withdraw from Title X and lose funding, but uphold their confidentiality policy. 

This commitment to confidentiality is a main part of Planned Parenthood’s mission because it prevents parents and other groups or individuals from targeting patients directly. According to the Planned Parenthood website, the nonprofit is shaped around one idea: “Your body is your own. If it is not, we cannot be truly free or equal.” In order to preserve this mission, Planned Parenthood announced on Aug. 19 that they have chosen to withdraw from the Title X Program and deny their federal funds, which will impact people on both a global and local scale.

Sarah is a firm supporter of the confidentiality Planned Parenthood embodies because it allows her access to birth control related services without a parent’s approval. 

“It was a really good experience, especially since everything was free. They didn’t put down any charges on my healthcare insurance so my parents wouldn’t be able to see it. I’m not comfortable with my parents knowing I had sex, so that was a definite plus,” Sarah said.

Aside from providing Sarah with a pregnancy test, Planned Parenthood gave her a State Insurance Card that will make any future procedures free. Like Sarah, nearly 1.5 million young people worldwide use Planned Parenthood as an affordable and confidential healthcare resource, but their coverage could be in jeopardy under this new law. 

According to Jennifer Kenny-Baum, the Wellness Coordinator at Redwood, the laws in the state of Calif. state that children over twelve are able to consent for their own medical and sexual health services. When utilizing Planned Parenthood, services are not only private, but also adjusted for patients’ income level. 

“They offered me [condoms] right off the bat. They also offered me birth control and I was going to get started on it, but I decided not to last minute because I was about to start another medication and didn’t want any complications,” Sarah said.

Aside from providing birth control methods, Planned Parenthood is the number one supplier of abortions in the United States, according to the Family Research Council. They have relied on Title X since 1970 and received an annual average of 60 million dollars from the federally funded program to sponsor their various services. If Planned Parenthood were to remain a part of Title X, they would no longer be able to provide abortions for patients. 

“Haley,” a Redwood junior who wishes to remain anonymous, sought out Planned Parenthood to obtain emergency contraception and get an STI test after having unprotected sex.

“I didn’t have my insurance with me but I still wanted to get tested. They asked me what type of testing I was thinking of, and I said, ‘Well, it depends how much it is,’ because I was paying out of pocket,” Haley said. “Not even three minutes later, they called me up and [the emergency contraception] was thirty dollars.”

According to the Planned Parenthood website, publicly funded birth control services have helped prevent approximately 402,000 teen pregnancies each year. Title X has successfully prevented one million unintended pregnancies every year through birth control, family planning, and abortion services. 

Although Planned Parenthood treats a large amount of female patients, that is not their only client base. They offer a plethora of services for men as well. According to the Planned Parenthood website, the number of male patients treated nationally experienced a 76 percent increase between 2004 and 2014. They provide services for over 250,000 men annually, the most common being Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) tests, gonorrhea tests and chlamydia tests. The implementation of the “gag rule” may be intended to punish Planned Parenthood for providing abortions, but unintended consequences include cuts to services for men as well.  

Many anti-abortion politicians argue that if Planned Parenthood centers are defunded, other organizations funded by Title X would be able to absorb their patients. However, according to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund website, Planned Parenthood treats nearly 41 percent of all Title X patients. This means nearly two million people would need to find new centers, a large portion of which are unfeasible options because of high cost and location. 

With Planned Parenthood leading the way, other local clinics such as healthRIGHT 360 in San Francisco have also chosen to withdraw from Title X. For Haley and Sarah, Planned Parenthood was their only option. If Planned Parenthood had chosen to continue receiving funds, they would have run the risk of denying teens confidential care. 

“If Planned Parenthood wasn’t an option, I would have probably waited it out,” Haley said. “[Planned Parenthood] is cheaper and confidential. It’s so much easier [than using a family physician].”

Not only did Haley and Sarah both receive sliding scale fees, but the United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that 90 percent of people who Title X served in 2018 qualified for subsidized purchases as well. However, subsidized funds are made largely possible because of government funding that Title X provides. Without it, many low-income patients might not be able to afford the care. 

While the defunding of Planned Parenthood poses a threat to many communities across the nation, Kenny-Baum says Redwood students still have local options available. 

 “For young people in Marin County, there are a few different places to access support. Definitely Planned Parenthood, because while they’ve pulled away from funding, they’re still going to be providing services,” Kenny-Baum said.

Kenny-Baum finds that most students approach the school’s sexual health clinic in search of pregnancy and STI tests, birth control methods and the morning after pill. Students can also access the Wellness Center to make a confidential appointment at other local clinics, but options extend beyond campus as well.

According to Kenny-Baum, Marin Community Clinics in San Rafael accepts anyone and charges on a sliding scale depending on income. Huckleberry Youth Programs in San Rafael also hosts drop-in clinics on Tuesdays from 1:30-5 p.m. and on Thursdays from 1:30-6pm, according to the program’s website. 

For students who are seeking out a safe environment with affordable resources, Planned Parenthood is a reliable, confidential resort, according to Haley.

“There was no judgement and they were very understanding people. I felt more comfortable there than I did at my doctor’s office,” Haley said. 

According to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund website, on June 20, Planned Parenthood requested courts to circle back to the “gag rule” on a later court date.