Thousands in Alaska could lose access to birth control, health care under Trump’s new anti-abortion policy

Last week, the Trump Administration rolled out its latest attack on abortion and abortion providers in a sweeping change to how funding for low-income access for contraception, cancer screenings and other reproductive health are spent.

The federal funds for family planning made available under Title X to health clinics, including Planned Parenthood, have long been barred from going to pay for abortions, but the rules have allowed those clinics to also provide abortion services with other funding sources.

The new rule by the Trump administration would create additional hurdles—like separate entrances, separate records and separate medical personnel—that would make it nearly impossible for clinics to provide both the family planning services funded by Title X and abortions funded through other sources, a move that advocates say could deprive more than 6,000 Alaskans from access non-abortion family planning services.

It would also end the requirement that Title X providers inform pregnant patients about the full range of options for pregnancy—prenatal care, adoption or termination—a move that advocates have called the “domestic gag rule.”

“This is a direct political attack on health centers that provide family planning services to low-income Alaskans,” said Jennifer M. Allen, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, in a prepared statement released last week. “The domestic gag rule is a cruel and unethical attack on reproductive rights by the Trump-Pence administration because it puts affordable health care out of reach for many underserved communities, including communities of color and rural communities in Alaska.”

It would allow clinics that offer more limited services, like anti-abortion pregnancy centers or ones that prioritize abstinence over contraceptives, to begin to access the funds free of the need to inform patients about their options.

It’s a move that the New York Times’ Editorial Board said, “undermines the notion of informed consent, a core tenet of medical ethics that says patients must be made aware of the risks and benefits of all options before them.”

“Under the new rule, staff members at Title X facilities who are morally opposed to abortion can effectively pretend that the procedure doesn’t exist — a lie by omission that no one would find acceptable in the context of any other form of health care,” the editorial argues. “That’s not an accident. The anti-abortion movement has spent decades trying to make abortion seem separate from ‘regular’ health care.”

Planned Parenthood has clinics in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Soldotna. Its statement on Trump’s rule changes says those clinics serve about 74 percent, or about 6,000, of the 8,592 people that relied on Title X services in 2017. About half of the recipients of those services are below the federal poverty line.

Planned Parenthood’s clinics make up about 40 percent of Alaska’s Title X clinics. U.S. Senate Democrats produced a report in 2018 about the impact cutting Planned Parenthood off from federal funding would mean that the remaining clinics would have to significantly increase their caseload.

“If Planned Parenthood were excluded from Title X, all other types of Title X-funded sites in Alaska would have to increase their contraceptive client caseloads by 174 percent to serve the women who currently obtain contraceptive care from Planned Parenthood health centers,” explained the memo.

That memo was likely targeted at U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who’s been one of the few Republicans in the Senate to support funding Planned Parenthood. She’s not made public comments on the change recently, but recent interviews with the other Republican to support Planned Parenthood, Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, said both she and Murkowksi have been opposed to the change since it was floated last year.

“I oppose this misguided rule change that could significantly diminish access for women to crucial contraceptive services, which have been critical in reducing the number of abortions in our country over the past three decades,” Collins said in a prepared statement, according to the Bangor Daily News.

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