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Opinion: The gag rule is rescinded, but its effects still hurt Missourians

  

You may know birth control in any of its many forms: condoms, the pill, the patch, the shot, or maybe even an intrauterine device (IUD). For decades, contraception has been a trusty companion for individuals and couples to plan if, when, and how to start or grow a family.

Mallory Schwarz

But birth control can be expensive, with the most effective methods, like IUDs or the implant, costing more than $1,000. For 50 years, the Title X Family Planning Program has provided federal funding to health centers that provide affordable family planning services, including wellness exams, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and birth control. In 2015, nearly 50,000 Missourians were able to access contraception thanks to this program. However, on March 4, 2019, then-President Donald Trump and his administration undermined the ability of Title X health centers to provide quality care by enforcing a “gag rule.” 

Many Title X centers provide full-scope reproductive health care, including STI testing and treatment, contraception access, and legal abortion. The gag rule, however, forces health centers to withhold information from patients seeking abortion services if they want to continue receiving Title X funds — even though the funding only supports birth control provision. As a result of the gag rule, the Title X program’s capacity was reduced by nearly half — threatening care for 1.6 million patients across the country. Additionally, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region & Southwest Missouri was forced to withdraw from Title X, leaving more than 5,000 Missourians to find services elsewhere or forgo care entirely. 

The loss of Title X funds means clinics face increased costs, shorter clinic hours, staff layoffs, and fewer available services at impacted centers. For women and birthing people — including transgender, non-binary, and non-conforming folks — who are living paycheck to paycheck, losing affordable access to the birth control they need because the health center they depend on lost its Title X funding compromises their reproductive health and well-being. 

Through Medicaid expansion, Missouri is putting one necessary foot forward in helping individuals of low-income access birth control. But one initiative is filling a crucial gap and making a significant impact right now: Missouri Family Health Council’s The Right Time initiative.

The Right Time’s mission is to provide low or no-cost birth control to all who need it. Whatever contraception you prefer, The Right Time offers affordable options so you can choose the right method for your situation. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, participating health centers have offered telehealth services, including birth control, delivered to your door. And with 12 The Right Time health centers in 32 locations across Missouri, including three in the Springfield region, this initiative is a truly statewide effort.

In January, President Joe Biden took an important first step in rescinding the gag rule. This is a silver lining in the cloud cast over clinics and patients, but it’s not enough. 

The gag rule continues to put Title X health care providers in peril and the lives of Missourians at risk. In Missouri, approximately 30,100 individuals of reproductive age (13-44) in need of publicly-funded contraception live in a county losing Title X resources. As our nation turns the page on four years of relentless attacks on Title X, it’s critical that state lawmakers take bold action to undo the damage done by this harmful policy. From the White House to the Missouri Legislature, we must champion policies that affirm everybody’s fundamental freedom to control their body, health, and future.