Editorials

Trump ‘gag rule’ a threat to women in Kansas and Missouri — not just Planned Parenthood

Governor Parson: Planned Parenthood must comply with Missouri probe of St. Louis clinic

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson pushed back Wednesday against Planned Parenthood’s attempt to seek a court order blocking the state from pulling the license of the abortion provider’s St. Louis clinic, due to expire Friday. (Technical difficulties)
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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson pushed back Wednesday against Planned Parenthood’s attempt to seek a court order blocking the state from pulling the license of the abortion provider’s St. Louis clinic, due to expire Friday. (Technical difficulties)

The Trump administration’s unfortunate decision to put the government between patients and their doctors threatens women across Kansas and Missouri.

Unwanted pregnancies are virtually assured. Serious illness — and yes, backroom abortions — are possibilities. At the very least, low-income women seeking contraceptive services will find that birth control is harder to get.

All because of a misguided “gag rule” the administration started enforcing this week, a measure that should be repealed or discarded by the courts.

For decades, the federal government has awarded so-called Title X grants ($286 million this year) to state and local agencies offering family planning services for disadvantaged patients.

“Title X–supported providers deliver patient-centered, voluntary, confidential and affordable care to approximately four million people each year,” says the Guttmacher Institute, “most of whom have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, or face other systemic barriers to care.”

The program has helped reduce unintended teenage pregnancies, provided cancer screening and counseling, even supplied treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Breast exams and Pap tests are provided.

By some estimates, Title X prevents more than one million unwanted pregnancies each year. Abortions are prohibited.

Yet President Donald Trump, with a push from Vice President Mike Pence, issued new rules this year for agencies getting Title X money. Now, doctors can discuss abortion with their patients, but they can’t suggest a place to have the procedure done or refer a patient to a doctor who performs abortions.

It amounts to unconscionable government interference with a woman’s right to consider all of her family planning options. The rule is so egregious that Planned Parenthood said its chapters would refuse Title X money rather than comply.

But the concern extends far beyond Planned Parenthood. Title X funds are used in clinics across Kansas and Missouri — clinics which, under the rule, can’t provide the full range of options to their clients.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment administers the state’s $2.5 million Title X grant. None of that money goes to Planned Parenthood. Instead, the state’s Title X program uses county-based health departments to provide reproductive services.

A spokeswoman said Tuesday the department has no plans to withdraw from the program and will work to insure compliance with the new rules. Make no mistake: The Johnson County Health Department, and others, will soon be providing incomplete reproductive health counseling to clients.

Missouri’s $5 million Title X grant is run by the Missouri Family Health Council. Some of those funds are provided to Planned Parenthood clinics.

As of Tuesday, Planned Parenthood in Missouri said it is operating without Title X, but “this will not affect your care with Planned Parenthood,” according to its website. That suggests it will offer the service using other funds, at least for now.

But some of Missouri’s Title X money goes to other agencies, such as Children’s Mercy Hospital. Those clinics now face an unacceptable choice: Forgo the federal money or submit to a gag rule.

“Patients will lose because of this rule,” the Missouri Family Health Council said earlier this year. “The health care safety net is already significantly strained in our state, and these changes have the potential to break already fragile systems of care.”

In Missouri, more than 37,000 women a year seek help from Title X providers. In Kansas, more than 20,000 clients receive subsidized services.

Republicans and abortion opponents behind the new rule insist they aren’t gagging anyone. But the facts are clear: Washington has once again interfered with the doctor-patient relationship, in the most personal way.

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