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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, May 31, 2018 1:00 am

Reproductive health policy getting reworked

Associated Press


President signs treatment bill

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed legislation Wednesday aimed at helping people with deadly diseases try experimental treatments, calling it a “fundamental freedom” that will offer hope and save lives.

Joined by families dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, and other diseases, Trump signed the so-called Right to Try bill and said he never understood why the issue had lagged for years and Congress hadn't acted sooner.

“There were no options. But now you have hope – you really have hope,” Trump said. He noted that “for many years, patients, advocates and lawmakers have fought for this fundamental freedom.”

The bill cleared the House last week following an emotional debate in which Republicans said it would help thousands of people in search of hope. Many Democrats said the measure was dangerous and would give patients false hope.

WASHINGTON – Step by methodical step, the Trump administration is remaking government policy on reproductive health – moving to limit access to birth control and abortion and bolstering abstinence-only sex education.

Social and religious conservatives praise the administration for promoting “a culture of life.” But women's-rights activists and some medical experts view the multi-pronged changes as a dangerous ideological shift that could increase unintended pregnancies and abortions.

“When I ran for office, I pledged to stand for life,” President Donald Trump said in a speech to the Susan B. Anthony List, which backs political candidates who oppose abortion. “And as president, that's exactly what I've done. And I have kept my promise, and I think everybody here understands that fully.”

Most of the changes involve rules and regulations under the administration's direct control, such as a proposal to forbid federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions and separately allowing more employers who cite moral or religious reasons to opt out of no-cost birth control for women workers.

Trump also is appointing new federal judges endorsed by anti-abortion groups.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, the president's only appointment to the Supreme Court so far, has a sparse record on abortion, but has drawn praise from anti-abortion groups and criticism from abortion rights supporters.

Democrats say Trump is changing policy in ways that could disrupt access to family planning for some women.

A recently proposed rule would make major changes to Title X, the family-planning program, including banning clinics from sharing physical space and financial resources with abortion providers. Providers like Planned Parenthood could be forced out.

“It's across the spectrum of women's health services,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Col. “They're proposing abstinence-only sex education – which study after study has shown doesn't work– restrictions to family planning, and more and more restrictions to abortion.”

Title X serves about 4 million low-income people, mainly women. Disruptions could affect women's access to long-acting contraceptives, such as implants and IUDs.

Eight professional groups representing doctors, nurses, midwives and physician assistants say the administration's Title X proposal “dangerously intrudes” on the patient-provider relationship.

“The strange thing about this is that people who want to decrease the number of abortions are taking away access to the very services that help prevent them,” said Dr. Hal Lawrence, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one of the eight groups.

The administration says it supports family planning and isn't cutting funding – merely drawing a “bright line” between birth control and abortion. Officials say the doctor-patient relationship is protected because if a woman asks for an abortion referral, Title X doctors could offer a list of pregnancy services providers, including some who perform abortions.

Abortion is legal, but under longstanding law and regulations, taxpayer money cannot be used to pay for them. Planned Parenthood can receive federal family-planning grants while separately providing abortions.

Trump's changes come at a time when U.S. rates of births overall, births to teens, and abortions are low.

“If we were seeing skyrocketing abortion rates and wildly high numbers on teen births, you could say we have a crisis, but this is just the opposite,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama, and a supporter of abortion rights. “This is playing politics and putting people in a very precarious situation.”