The Domestic Gag Rule

Early Tuesday morning reproductive justice advocates marched from Capitol Hill to the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. for the National Day of Digital Action Against the Domestic Gag Rule. Meanwhile, others fired up a tweet-storm with the hashtag #NoGagRule. Marchers included the general public, members of Congress, and healthcare providers who denounce the rule that negatively affects access to reproductive health services, according to Tweets.

The so-called “domestic gag rule,” dubbed for its similarity to the global gag rule, was announced this March. The rule is a Trump administration policy that draws inspiration from Reagan-era legislation which required abortion be separated from other family planning services.

The domestic gag rule would force reproductive healthcare organizations, like Planned Parenthood, to choose between discontinuing all abortion-related services and counseling, or forfeiting federal funding. The rule has the approval of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who ignored a reminder in June that reiterated the last time such a policy was in effect, abortion rates rose by 20 percent.

Most reproductive health care centers that offer low-cost or free services receive Title X funding, which is budgeted for annually by Congress. The populations who get care at these clinics, most often poor, under-insured, or uninsured people of color, already have extremely limited access to reproductive healthcare.

Further, the rule could affect the sections of Title X that protect minors who are seeking contraceptives or STI and pregnancy tests from having to disclose to their parents that they are using reproductive healthcare services.

The policy would intensify the ever-present imbalance between those who can afford and access abortion services and those who must carry unwanted or unviable pregnancies to term.

The domestic gag rule would deeply affect the Rio Grande Valley. Roughly 685,000 RGV dwellers are between 19 and 39 years old, the age range in which 98 percent of abortions in Texas occur. Of course, slightly less than half of this number are listed as men. Not only do men also benefit from Title X-funded services, some men may need abortion services, too.

Further, according to the Census Bureau, 90 percent of RGV dwellers are considered non-white Hispanic, and a study by the Texas Tribune showed that nine percent of Texas’s entire undocumented population call the Rio Grande Valley home. Additionally, in 2017, Starr County had the lowest median income in Texas.

Even without all these numbers, people in the RGV need only to look at ourselves and those around us to see who would be affected by the domestic gag rule. The policy, like all legislation that seeks to limit safe and legal abortion, lacks scientific basis, ignores the human right to bodily autonomy, and inhumanely affects only the most vulnerable populations.

Make no mistake: the domestic gag rule means healthcare providers would be forbidden to counsel patients about abortion, forced to lie and omit vital information, or else risk serious legal consequences.

How you can help from home

First, follow the #NoGagRule hashtag on all your social media accounts. Then, contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Azar by July 31. You can find a pre-made letter to use or draw inspiration from here, courtesy of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood also has a great online action plan to refer to.

You can also read Neta’s list of 10 Ways To Support Reproductive Justice in the Rio Grande Valley to see organizations that directly support the populations most affected by harmful policies like the domestic gag rule.