Editorials

California women: Do this right now if you don’t want to lose your reproductive rights

In this Jan. 22, 2018 file photo, supporters attend a rally held by Planned Parenthood, commemorating the anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling at the Capitol in Sacramento.
In this Jan. 22, 2018 file photo, supporters attend a rally held by Planned Parenthood, commemorating the anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling at the Capitol in Sacramento. AP

As the Trump administration connives to turn back the clock on family planning, California women might imagine that at least their hard-won reproductive rights are safe.

Here, more than almost anywhere, state law protects the right to abortion. Roe v. Wade – the landmark Supreme Court decision now in the crosshairs of conservatives – has been codified in California law for 15 years now. Also, the right to privacy that underpins women’s ability to decide when and whether to have children has been part of the California Constitution since 1972. Planned Parenthood has 115 clinics here, more than any other state.

Go to federalregister.gov and comment formally on Proposed Rule 2018-11673. The comment period ends July 31.

But the rights of California women are not safe, particularly for those who are poor and uninsured. And to the extent you or your daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters care about preserving those rights, now is the time to act.

Not content to merely stack the judiciary according to social conservatives’ Mad Men-era playbook, President Donald Trump last month announced a new rule that would make it significantly harder to avoid unwanted pregnancies for poor Californians. It is, to be blunt, a gag rule that would yank federal subsidies for contraceptives and other care from providers who even discuss abortion with patients.

The proposal would deny federal Title X funds for birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease tests to any clinic that also provides abortions or even refers a patient for the procedure. Just to be clear, it’s already against the law to use federal money for abortion; Title X recipients undergo frequent audits to ensure their funds go where they’re supposed to.

And in California, they make an important difference: This money underwrites, say, the STD test your 26-year-old daughter discreetly got when she aged off of your health insurance. Or the birth control pills keeping that teenaged farmworker from becoming a teenaged mother. Or the PAP smear for the 56-year-old mother of three whose housekeeping job doesn’t include health insurance.

More than a million low-income Californians, most of them women of color, annually use Title X health care. It’s the nation’s oldest family planning program, and it focuses not on ending unwanted pregnancies, but preventing them.

Title X should be neutral territory in the culture war zone. But Trump sees leverage to gut Planned Parenthood. Abortion opponents imagine, foolishly, that if Planned Parenthood dies, women will be more careful about getting pregnant and won’t get abortions. They’re wrong, as any woman who came of age before Roe knows.

Those back-alley abortions are a thing of the past in California, thanks to two generations of choice and accessible contraception; teen pregnancy and abortion rates are historically low.

This cynical rule would just force doctors to choose between denying patients a constitutionally protected and sometimes medically necessary procedure, or radically scaling back other care, often in rural areas where women’s health clinics are the only nearby option.

Frankly, given last month’s Supreme Court ruling against coerced speech in crisis pregnancy clinics, it isn’t even clear Trump’s bid to control doctors’ speech is legal. But the courts could take time to shut him down.

Women who, like the vast majority of Americans, want the Supreme Court to stay away from abortion rights might not have much recourse as Trump rams through his nominee for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s replacement. But they can, and should, speak against Trump’s gag rule.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a call to female voters to write, call and contact their elected officials to protest Trump’s proposed rule change. If they’re serious, they’ll also go to federalregister.gov and formally comment on Proposed Rule 2018-11673. The comment period ends July 31.

California may be a blue state, but we are not an island. We have a responsibility to speak up when a president becomes hazardous to a nation’s health.

  Comments