The clock is ticking down to May 3, when changes to the almost five-decade-old Title X program will see dramatic revamping and decreased health care services for poor and uninsured women. The new rules deeply concern Cali Roberts, director of Womankind, who met with U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell on April 16 to express her alarm for Keys women.
“The changes are chipping away at the foundation for treating people equally,” said Roberts. “It’s setting up a whole generation for failure.” Women between the ages 13 and 26 will be most affected by the Title X changes.
The program started in 1971 during the Nixon era and was intended as a bipartisan measure to provide family planning and health care services. Mainly, Title X money allows healthcare facilities to offer non-abortion services like cancer screenings, STD testing, and contraception to almost 4 million low income, rural, and uninsured Americans. The new rules state that if a clinic offers any abortion services or counseling, then funds for other health care services will disappear. It also reduces access to quality contraceptive care. The overhaul is meant to move patients toward more faith-based centers and counseling. Federal money has never funded abortions.
“I am for family planning,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “We evolve and continue to evolve by having access to education and health care services to help us. This is an attack on women’s health care and is trying to take us back to the 1930s. I don’t understand the objective. There is no separation between church and state.”
No health care facility provides abortions in the Keys, but Womankind does receive three to five inquires about them each week. The new “gag rule” would prevent doctors from discussing abortion-related health care issues with patients. The closest available access is Planned Parenthood in Miami, but the new Title X takes direct aim at trying to close Planned Parenthoods by removing their funding. If they close, Keys women will not be able to use their services.
“We are treating women like they are not capable of making a decision, but assuming they are capable of raising a child?” said Roberts. She has also noticed a decreased availability for Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) for Womankind. Nexplanon is being rationed, and Roberts is finding it hard to keep supply to demand and feels this is in conjunction with the new government ideology on contraception. LARCs like Nexplanon are easy for young girls because they can last up to four years in the body.
“The government is making cuts across the board for social services — Medicaid and Medicare too,” said Mucarsel-Powell.
According to the Guttmacher Institute — which studies, educates and advances sexual and reproductive health and rights — without contraception from Title X funded health care centers, the 2015 rates of unintended pregnancy would have been 31% higher, and unintended pregnancy rates for teens would have been 44% higher. Also without Title X funding, some clinics will be forced to close or reduce staff, again overburdening the health care system.
Roughly 22 states and 19 medical organizations filed suit trying to block the scheduled changes to Title X.
“In Congress, I assure you, we are fighting to keep the bare minimum funded,” said Mucarsel-Powell.