The Trump administration’s decision last Friday to implement a dangerous “domestic gag rule” is an unprecedented move that will devastate the health care of millions of women across the country, including here in Missouri. The rule will strip any clinic of Title X federal family planning funding for offering, referring or even mentioning abortion to patients.
This is a direct attack on free speech and health care, which women have a constitutional right to receive. It is downright terrifying that the Trump administration is dictating to doctors what they can and cannot tell their patients about their health care options, holding much-needed federal funding over their heads.
Missouri already requires by law that reproductive health clinics counsel women on all their options, using anti-choice rhetoric that spreads lies about the “dangers” of abortion. And now the federal government is trying to take the option off the table altogether. We cannot allow free speech to be protected everywhere except in women’s health clinics.
To add insult to injury, the Missouri General Assembly passed a budget bill this month that will further negatively impact women’s health in Missouri. The 2019 budget effectively stripped Planned Parenthood of its Medicaid funding, which affects every location in the state, not just the three that offer abortion services.
The kicker is that because of a federal restriction, Medicaid funding wasn’t going to abortion anyway. That means that the Republican supermajority in the state legislature voted to strip women — mostly those of lesser means — of necessary treatments and services. The estimated 7,000 patients in Missouri on Medicaid who go to Planned Parenthood for reproductive health annually won’t even be covered anymore for their regular exams, sexually-transmitted infection tests, cancer screenings or birth control.
The punching bag for both of these drastic and harmful decisions is lower-income women. These women rely on Planned Parenthood and the 68 Title X clinic sites in Missouri every day to receive basic health care. But their options have been stripped away all because anti-choice lawmakers don’t like the fact that those clinics also happen to provide abortions.
It is irresponsible that in a state with a maternal mortality rate four times worse than the national average, the government is willing to take away care women desperately need to stay healthy. This isn’t pro-life. It’s deeply anti-woman.
Whether anti-choice lawmakers like it or not, abortion is a necessary part of reproductive health care. We cannot let low-income women get sick or die because they can’t get access to basic health care that they need.
We cannot stand idly by, silently allowing the state or national government to take away our right to choose by deciding to defund the clinics that allow us to make that very choice. The fight for the right to retain autonomy over our bodies and keep ourselves healthy is being stripped away, and we cannot let it go unnoticed.
Alison Dreith is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.