The "Gag Rule": Silencing The Right To Choose

The Trump Administration's Attempt To Limit Women's Healthcare Access And Suppress Information About Their Health


By Josette Barrans

Throughout his campaign and administration, President Donald Trump has shown he does not care much about women’s rights. From his trivialization of sexual assault to his goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, it was clear that women would be in trouble once he took office. As expected, he has already enacted policies that violate women’s healthcare rights and he continues to chip away at their basic freedoms. Earlier this year, President Trump proposed the reinstatement of a decades old “gag rule” that would ban federally funded clinics from discussing abortion and preventive care[1]. Based on a policy first implemented by Ronald Reagan, the “gag rule” would also prevent clinics from sharing spaces with abortion providers as well as prevent health care providers from referring patients to clinics such as Planned Parenthood for safe and legal abortions[2]. Through this policy, women’s ability to access accurate information about their healthcare would be severely limited.

On May 30th, Trump appointed Dr. Diane Foley as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Population Affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services[3]. Foley is a long-time anti-abortion activist who believes in abstinence-only education. Her position oversees Title X, the federal grant program dedicated to family planning and preventive health services. Essentially, Foley determines recipients of Title X funding as well as managing the U.S. birth control program. Planned Parenthood clinics are one of the current prominent recipients of Title X funding, but they are not allowed to use this money to fund actual abortions. Under current US law, abortion services cannot be provided by any organization using federal funds[4]. But, Planned Parenthood uses the funding they receive to provide a wide range of healthcare services to women. Under this gag rule, however, Planned Parenthood would be exempt from receiving any Title X funding and would subsequently be unable to serve Title X patients due to the nature of their organization. Though abortion related services only constitute one aspect of what Planned Parenthood does, their existence in the organization would block any other services from receiving funding.

Planned Parenthood immediately took action to publicly oppose and fight this proposal, as this policy clearly targets progressive family planning organizations such as themselves. Though they only make up 13% of health centers funded by Title X, Planned Parenthood serves 41% of patients who receive care through Title X[5]. With this in mind, a blow to Planned Parenthood’s ability to effectively serve patients would burden a large portion of Title X beneficiaries. This policy also has a great impact on poor and uninsured women, being the ones who mainly use Title X funded services, as they can’t afford any other options. In fact, almost two-thirds of patients who use Title X are below the federal poverty line[6]. Additionally, Title X recipients are disproportionately women of color[7]. As a result, a gag rule would prevent these women from receiving information about abortions from the only clinics they can afford to visit. This rule clearly violates the relationship between a patient and doctor, as doctors are supposed to provide patients with all of their medical options and expert recommendations. Being forced to withhold certain information based on partisan preferences in unlawful and unethical. This policy hurts over four million people served by Title X[8].

One woman described the impact Title X funding had on her life. When Rhea lost her job, and health insurance with it, Title X funding at Planned Parenthood was the only way she was able to afford life saving treatment for precancerous cells found in her Pap test[9]. Rhea represents stories from millions of women that illustrate how vital Title X funding is to both people and organizations. If Planned Parenthood is cut off from this funding by the new proposal and the gag rule is implemented, patients like Rhea will be limited in their treatment options and may not even be told about many life-saving procedures. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood is the only family planning organization and birth control provider in many remote areas. Therefore, Title X patients in these locations could be left with no healthcare services[10].

As lawsuits are not permitted until the policy is finalized, Planned Parenthood cannot officially sue Trump over this proposal until its final language is released. Nevertheless, Planned Parenthood has already sued the Trump administration for several other amendments to Title X guidelines made earlier this year, stating that the amendments violated federal laws as they were arbitrary and unfair[11]. These guidelines promoted abstinence-only education and alternative methods to contraception rather than birth control. It also gave funding advantages to organizations that work with community and faith-based groups. The judge sided with Trump in this case, however, meaning that Planned Parenthood is already at a disadvantage to continue to receive Title X funding. If this new gag rule were implemented, their organization’s mission would be further damaged.

Trump’s commitment to eliminating safe and legal abortions extends beyond the scope of the nation. On his fourth day in office, Trump used an executive order to implement a global gag rule[12]. This rule prevents the US government from contributing funds to any international organizations that provide abortions, related services, or even information about abortions. The fact that this was one of his first acts as president demonstrates Trump’s explicit targeting of women’s healthcare rights.

It is easy to see what Trump is actually trying to do: limit women’s access to birth control, other methods of contraception, and safe and legal abortions. He is likely promoting this agenda to appease his conservative and religious base, as there is a large block of single issue voters whose main priority is the implementation of pro-life policy. While his previous attempt to explicitly defund Planned Parenthood was unsuccessful, this proposal is an effective back-door method of achieving his goal. Americans must not let Trump use loopholes to implement his unethical policies. By blocking access to healthcare, Trump is risking the health and lives of women around the country.


[1] Planned Parenthood. “What Is the Trump-Pence Administration's ‘Gag Rule?".” Planned Parenthood Action Fund, National - PPACTION, 18 May 2018.

[2] Planned Parenthood.

[3] Planned Parenthood. “DIY Speak Up for Planned Parenthood Toolkit.” Planned Parenthood, 2018.

[4]Siddiqui, Sabrina. “Trump Administration to Revive Reagan-Era Abortion 'Gag' Rule.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 May 2018.

[5]Durkee, Alison. “Judge Sides with Trump Administration in Planned Parenthood Title X Funding Lawsuit.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 18 July 2018.

[6]Rovner, Julie. “Trump Proposes Cutting Planned Parenthood Funds. What Does That Mean?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 May 2018.

[7]J. Steinauer, P. Darney. Proposed changes to the Title X family planning program. Lancet, 392 (2018), p. E6.

[8]J. Steinauer.

[9] Rhea, Planned Parenthood patient. “Trump's Gag Rule Could Have Killed Me.” Planned Parenthood Action Fund, 2018.

[10] Rovner, Julie.

[11] Durkee, Alison.

[12]Starrs, Ann M. 2017. “The Trump global gag rule: An attack on US family planning and global health aid,” The Lancet 389(10068): 485–486.