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Forgoing Title X is painful, but Planned Parenthood won’t be gagged

photo of planned parenthood building
REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant
Planned Parenthood exists to ensure that every person can get the reproductive health care they need, no matter who they are or how much money they make.

In 1929 at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, Margaret Sanger appeared at an event with a gag across her mouth. It was a bit of theater to illustrate a serious point: The city authorities had forbidden her from speaking publicly about birth control; they had gagged her.

Sarah Stoesz
Sarah Stoesz
Ninety years later, here we are. Today, the organization Sanger founded more than a century ago has grown and evolved but now is faced with another gag: the Trump-Pence administration’s Title X gag rule.

Shortly after the advent of the birth control pill and before the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, then-President Richard Nixon put a federal program in place with a simple and critical purpose: to make family planning services available to the people in this country who couldn’t afford them.

For 5 decades, Title X worked great

That federal program was called Title X (ten). And for five decades, Title X worked great. Every year, people across the country, including tens of thousands of Minnesotans, used Title X to get birth control, STI tests, and cancer screenings they couldn’t otherwise afford.

But then, nearly 50 years into the program, the Trump-Pence administration changed the rules, so that no health care provider that receives Title X funds may provide or even refer for abortion. Planned Parenthood — the largest provider of reproductive health care for women in the country, and a Title X grantee from the very beginning — could remain in the Title X program, they said, as long as we stopped telling people where they could get a safe and legal abortion. It was a bribe, and a big one — millions of dollars a year for our patients.

Planned Parenthood exists to ensure that every person can get the reproductive health care they need, no matter who they are or how much money they make. This administration knows that. So perhaps they truly believed we would take the bribe. After all, they were holding hostage the health care of low-income Americans, the people who already have the hardest time getting care, the people we fight hardest to care for.

But no amount of money would be sufficient to take this dirty deal.

Commitment to speaking truth

Your income level shouldn’t determine if you can receive full and complete information about your health care options. Remaining in the Title X program would mean gagging our doctors and turning our back on the foundational promise of this organization. For more than 100 years, women have known they can count on Planned Parenthood for expertise and the truth. The insidious games of this administration will not change that. At the core of Planned Parenthood’s mission is an unshakable commitment to speaking truth to power and truth to our patients.

If we were to forfeit the truth, it wouldn’t matter how much money they’d give us, we’d have nothing — because we would have lost our ethical foundation.

Our doors remain open, and we have no plans to close any of them, thanks to the incredible generosity of our devoted donors. But still, the effects of the Title X gag rule are real and they are devastating. In Minnesota, the sliding fee scale in our health centers used to go all the way down to zero, so we could ensure we were able to give every person the care they needed, even if they had no money at all. Right now, without Title X, we have to ask every patient to pay something, even if they can’t afford it, because the safety net that was in place for nearly 50 years is gone. And that is heartbreaking. We never, ever, want to see someone walk out our doors without the care they need. Personally, this has been one of the most painful ordeals of my nearly two decades as president and CEO of our regional affiliate. But I have not, for one single moment, doubted that walking away from this devious bribe was the right thing to do.

A fight for freedom

We will not be complicit in furthering the oppression of low-income women in this country. At every turn in our country’s history, women have had to fight for autonomy. We have fought to be able to vote for who represents us, to buy things without a husband’s signature, or to get the health care we need without a politician’s permission.

The fight for reproductive health care is a fight for freedom. There is no amount of money that could make us turn our back on that fight now.

Sarah Stoesz is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.


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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 11/26/2019 - 10:30 am.

    As long as it remains legal, as long as the women involved are fully aware of what’s going to happen to them and their fetus, and as long as no public funds are involved, I wish PP joy of their mission.

  2. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 11/26/2019 - 10:32 am.

    “In 1929 at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, Margaret Sanger appeared at an event with a gag across her mouth. It was a bit of theater to illustrate a serious point: The city authorities had forbidden her from speaking publicly about birth control; they had gagged her.”

    Speaking for myself, I sincerely wish everyone was more familiar with Margaret Sanger and her agenda.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/26/2019 - 11:21 am.

      Me too. Sadly, there are a lot of falsehoods about Sanger floating around on right-wing media instead.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/27/2019 - 12:32 pm.

      “Society is divided into three groups. Those intelligent and wealthy members of the upper classes who have obtained knowledge of Birth Control and exercise it in regulating the size of their families. They have already benefited by this knowledge, and are today considered the most respectable and moral members of the community. They have only children when they desire, and all society points to them as types that should perpetuate their kind.

      The second group is equally intelligent and responsible. They desire to control the size of their families, but are unable to obtain knowledge or to put such available knowledge into practice.

      The third are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequence of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent entirely upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped. For if they are not able to support and care for themselves, they should certainly not be allowed to bring offspring into this world for others to look after. We do not believe that filling the earth with misery, poverty and disease is moral. And it is our desire and intention to carry on our crusade until the perpetuation of such conditions has ceased.

      We desire to stop at its source the disease, poverty and feeble-mindedness and insanity which exist today, for these lower the standards of civilization and make for race deterioration. We know that the masses of people are growing wiser and are using their own minds to decide their individual conduct. The more people of this kind we have, the less immorality shall exist. For the more responsible people grow, the higher do they and shall they attain real morality.” – Margaret Sanger. The Morality of Birth Control – delivered 18 November 1921, Park Theatre, NY

      • Submitted by Joe Smith on 11/28/2019 - 12:25 pm.

        Dennis, thank you for that post. There are many romanticized depictions of Ms. Sanger floating around left wing blogs.

    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 12/04/2019 - 11:30 am.

      Margaret Sanger was a racist who thought abortion would be a great way to ensure less black babies were born. The Democrats should be opposed to Margaret Sanger and her beliefs. Strangely, they are not.

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