Domestic gag rule: Time to fight the patriarchal state

On June 18, Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2020 for a new term. Only four days later, on June 21, anti-health care rules issued by his administration took effect — one of the most far-reaching attacks yet on poor women and LGBTQ2S+ people. 

Its openly class-based, viciously racist-sexist intent is to deny access to abortion and other reproductive health care, as well as information and referrals about abortion, to 4 million gender-oppressed poor people who receive their primary health care via Medicaid under Title X.

The timing of the two events is no coincidence. People are predicting that Trump will rely heavily on appeals to his faith-based, anti-women and anti-gender-oppressed constituency to help reelect him. (For more about Trump’s reliance on anti-abortion forces and prior gag rule attempts, see WW, March 15.) 

That means anyone who cares about the basic human rights of all gender-oppressed people and their families needs to march and rally against the so-called “domestic gag rule,” which ruthlessly stomps on the positive, gender-equality aspects of Title X of the Public Health Services Act. Passed in 1970 during the Nixon administration, it provided free reproductive health care for low-income women on Medicaid as part of the “federal war on poverty.”

After the Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973 with Roe v. Wade, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976. It allowed only women who had suffered from incest or rape or whose lives were endangered by pregnancy to get abortions paid with federal Medicaid funds. 

A later decision allowed states to pay for abortions with their Medicaid funds; 17 do so now. While dollar amounts for federally paid abortions are not available, they must be exceedingly small — considering that filling out the bureaucratic forms required to prove incest and rape can be a daunting burden. 

“Hyde’s effects are real and significant,” confirms a study published June 19 by researchers at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, based at the University of California, San Francisco. About 29 percent of poor pregnant women interviewed in Louisiana in 2015-17 said they would have considered an abortion, but didn’t because of the lack of Medicaid coverage.

A June 20 Vox article about the study stated: “Near-total abortion bans at the state level have brought the possibility of a challenge to Roe v. Wade to the forefront.” It concluded that “for many Americans, especially those in poverty, the end of Roe is already here.” 

Progressive organizations fight back 

Immediately after the Trump administration released the final rule in March, it was challenged by Planned Parenthood, which could lose its status as the primary source of reproductive health care in the U.S. Also opposed were the American Medical Association and 19 major medical associations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as 110 public health organizations. 

In addition to opposition by 20 states and civil rights organizations, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the rule has been denounced by mayors, state lawmakers, governors and more than 200 members of Congress, including the Pro-Choice Caucus and caucuses representing Black, Latinx and Asian Pacific American congresspeople. 

California, Oregon and Washington won temporary injunctions to stop the rule. But the Trump administration appealed, and judges in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit allowed the rule to take effect. Maryland is the only state where the rule did not take effect. 

Planned Parenthood is the rule’s primary target. The national organization provides birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as medical and surgical abortions and other reproductive care. The campaign to defund the country’s major nonprofit source of health care for gender-oppressed people was started by Vice President Mike Pence, a fervent evangelist and Trump worshipper, when he was in Congress in 2007. 

Dr. Leana Wen, the first president of Planned Parenthood in 50 years who is a physician, specialized in emergency room medicine and was Baltimore’s health commissioner before assuming leadership last fall. Calling abortion bans “misogyny and oppression,” Dr. Wen noted in a June 20 statement that the House of Representatives passed a spending bill the previous day “that would block the gag rule from being implemented because it’s dangerous, it’s unethical, and it’s illegal.” 

Noting the rule prohibits providers from referring patients for or counseling them about abortion, she denounced that the rule blocks access to abortion care with “cost-prohibitive and unnecessary physical separation requirements” designed to isolate abortion care from other services. 

The effects of the rule will be a human rights violation for millions of people of color, youth, im/migrants, rural residents, survivors of domestic violence and women with disabilities. In addition, as Dr. Wen noted, “Providers of care of nearly 50 percent of Title X patients [say] the rule would force them out of the program. The administration is putting health care at risk for patients across the country.” 

Gag rule is ‘hateful, criminal, reactionary, misogynist, inhuman and fascistic’

There are so many ways to condemn the gag rule — hateful, criminal, reactionary, misogynist, inhuman and fascistic. But the most obvious aspect is that it insinuates the capitalist state directly into the most intimate and ultimately personal aspect of human life.

This rule personifies the definition of the patriarchal state — men in power who exercise control over those deemed inferior as their private property. Shouldn’t that make every person angry who values human and civil rights? 

Articles recently have addressed men’s role in abortion. The most important role now is for men to join gender-oppressed people in the streets to struggle against this vicious assault on our personhood. 

We demand our right to life! We will never go back!

Sue Davis

Sue.Davis@workers.org

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