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Gag me with a spoon 

In November 2017, I wrote about the vital role played by Planned Parenthood—vital to women, vital to men, vital to families, vital to our communities.

In fact, Central Coast Planned Parenthood health centers serve almost 32,000 patients annually, providing breast cancer screening exams, STI testing, cervical cancer screenings, and contraceptive services. Non-judgmental counseling at Planned Parenthood offers honest and comprehensive information about all pregnancy outcome options, thus empowering women to make decisions that are best for them and their families.

In other words, Planned Parenthood treats women and patients respectfully and with the credo that each individual should be able to make an informed choice about their health.

And along comes Trump, again.

We already know that he likes to control women, that he feels free to fondle them in an assaultive manner, and that he will expend money to silence them. But in his bid to pander to a narrow constituency of ideologues, last month the Trump administration announced a gag rule to stifle women's health options and attack Title X safety-net providers like Planned Parenthood.

You remember that Title X is the federal program established in 1970 to help low-income people access birth control and essential, preventive care like STD testing. From the beginning, Title X has enjoyed bipartisan support; since 1976 when the Hyde Amendment was adopted, no federal funds are used for abortions at Planned Parenthood or any other health clinic. Of the 4 million Title X women and families, 41 percent receive their care from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood correctly calls the gag rule "the most dramatic threat to health care access and our reproductive rights since extreme lawmakers tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act and block access to care at Planned Parenthood two years ago." Here's a few draconian effects:

• prohibit abortion referrals, even when requested by patients;

• require coercive counseling standards and mandated prenatal care for pregnant patients;

• require clinics to physically and financially separate Title X-funded (non-abortion) activities from abortion-related services.

Moreover, the gag rule would allow providers to offer intentionally misleading information. They can steer patients who may be considering abortion to crisis pregnancy centers that do not offer comprehensive or even legitimate medical services. First Amendment protection allows these organizations to propagate misinformation, such as the claim that abortion is linked to breast cancer and psychosis. Most crisis pregnancy centers actually discourage contraception, including condoms, asserting that condoms do not prevent STDs. That's actual Fake News. The American Medical Association (AMA) Journal of Ethics calls these centers "deceptive" and "unethical."

The AMA, folks, is not a fly-by-night group. It leads more than 100 legitimate medical and public health associations speaking up to oppose the gag rule, which, in itself, is obviously unethical. In addition to the AMA, those organizations include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and an overwhelming number of individual doctors, nurses, and other health care practitioners.

In fact, the AMA and Planned Parenthood are suing the Trump/Pence administration to prevent the gag rule from going into effect. Julie Mickelberry of Central Coast Planned Parenthood reminds us that "the state of California, led by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, also filed suit, recognizing that 25 percent of all Title X patients live in California.

"While we are challenging the gag rule in court," Mickelberry adds, "the administration is already fundamentally changing the Title X program. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the 2019 Title X grantees. Four Planned Parenthood affiliates lost their Title X grants—which will impact over 40,000 patients.

"And right here in California, a crisis pregnancy center—which does not prescribe or give any information about contraceptives—received a Title X family planning grant for $1.7 million."

If the AMA and Planned Parenthood litigation is unsuccessful, the gag rule will go into effect in just 15 days, on May 3, 2019.

How many times and how many ways have women's voices been gagged and ignored? In a society that sanctions lies to women about their health and reproductive rights, it's not a leap to a culture of rape and sexual assault. Both discount women—like a president who brags about grabbing them wherever.

Have you read the harrowing stories of Cal Poly women who were raped and sexually assaulted? Senior Amelia Meyerhoff recorded accounts by dozens of Cal Poly students: see "The Clapback: An Investigation of the Sexual Assault and Rape Culture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo" at

Over and over, these women protest unwanted advances and say, "No." They go unheard, first by the rapist, and then by legal systems and administrations.

It's time to stop disrespecting, gagging, and ignoring women. And it's certainly time to stop lying to women. Mickelberry stated on email that if the gag rule isn't stopped, Planned Parenthood California Central Coast will not accept Title X funding. They will carry on despite a concussive hit to their budget.

"We will never force our doctors to lie to our patients," she assured. Δ

Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at [email protected].

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