Barely ten years ago, 350,000 completely preventable AIDS deaths occurred in South Africa because of their president’s obstinacy. He recommended that women treat their HIV with beetroot and lemon juice.
It’s hard to believe until you realize the same thing just happened here. HJ Resolution 43 was just signed into law by President Trump, giving states the ability to reject federal grants (called Title X grants) to family planning providers and clinics that help low-income patients receive physical exams, labs, prescriptions, contraception, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and — yes — referrals for STIs and HIV. As a medical student and mother raised in North Idaho, I know well the impact that this new law will have.
Title X is the nation’s only federal grant program providing these services. There’s nowhere else to go. One in four women who receive gynecological/reproductive health services do so at a publicly funded clinic. For these women, Title X clinics are their main source of basic health care. This is especially true for patients who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance either. Without the services these clinics provide, the number of unintended pregnancies and STIs will surge. Abortions and preventable deaths will increase.
Women like my sister Jennifer Ellsworth, for example. Jennifer is a mother of three in Sandpoint, Idaho. She has been able to receive prenatal care, cervical cancer screenings and other basic health care services because Title X funding was available. As a red state, Idaho is likely to be among those states who choose to deny clinics Title X grants. Jennifer’s children, and she herself, are healthy today because of that funding. She is deeply concerned about her health and the health of her female friends and worries about her daughter’s future. Jennifer is an independent conservative in a conservative state, and yet, to her and many who share her views in North Idaho, this new law is an assault on women, families, and family values. As someone deeply opposed to abortion, she is concerned about the rise in abortions that will surely follow the defunding of women’s health clinics in Idaho.
Much of the justification for leaving low-income women high and dry has to do with the debate over Planned Parenthood. Sadly, this debate has been misled by people with political agendas.
Let’s consider the facts: 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to providing basic health care to women and men in need. Real people, people like Jennifer, use and need these services. What’s more, no federal funding, including Title X funding, can be used to provide abortions. Let me be clear — these grants do not fund abortion services. And with this new law, unintended pregnancies and women seeking abortion services will rise. That’s not a talking point. That’s not politics — it’s a reality.
If Title X grants are discontinued in conservative states, approximately 4 million low-income women will be priced out of essential health care, with the greatest burden carried by women in conservative states. This means more babies born with preventable birth defects. It means more women dying from preventable breast cancer. It means more preventable deaths from AIDS. It means more abortions.
Beetroot and lemon juice are not going to keep us healthy. For that, we need common sense and continued Title X funding for essential health care services for women. We must come together, across political lines, to ensure the health and safety of our women and future children.
To my fellow physicians and physicians-in-training — we abide by an oath that requires us to advocate on behalf of our patients. This is what we signed up for, and our voice on these issues truly matters, particularly those of us who live or practice in red states likely to reject Title X funds for political reasons. I urge you to make your voices heard to your elected representatives. This is not a liberal, conservative or independent issue — it is a human issue. And this is not a time for silence; it is a time for action.
Sarah Lawrence is a medical student.
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