Op-Ed: The Title X Gag Rule Could Cause Black Women To Go Without Vital Cancer Screenings

Op-Ed: The Title X Gag Rule Could Cause Black Women To Go Without Vital Cancer Screenings

Here’s how the rule impacts our health.

Published November 4th

Written by BET Staff

A new rule being enforced nationwide threatens to stifle the conversations medical providers are allowed to have with women. 

The Title X (pronounced “title ten”) gag rule, which has been in effect since July 2019, stands to impact Black and Brown communities most significantly. 

Title X is a federal grant program that provides funds to medical facilities that provide family planning services, including abortion and other related health provisions. 

According to the U.S. Office of Population Affairs, almost 4,000 Title X-funded sites account for the care of 3.9 million people, 22% of whom are Black.

Since the Trump administration issued the gag rule, if a woman walks into a clinic that receives Title X funds and finds out she’s pregnant, her doctor is required to remain silent on the topic of abortion.

According to Planned Parenthood, the gag rule stipulates medical providers receiving Title X funding are barred from giving any information about abortions to their patients or risk losing their ability to function. 

“It would make it impossible for patients in the program to get birth control at places like Planned Parenthood,” a statement on their website explains. “And it prohibits doctors from giving women full information about all of their sexual and reproductive health care options.”

This greatly affects the functionality and purpose of such clinics, which specifically serve individuals who have no other medical care options available to them. 

That medical care often includes life-sustaining services that have nothing to do with abortion, like breast cancer. 

A report from the American Cancer Society this year shows breast cancer is still the number-one most diagnosed cancer among Black women. Compared to white women, Black women are over 40% more likely to die from breast cancer. 

The report provides various reasons for the lower rate of survival, including genetic differences that increase the chances of Black women being diagnosed with triple-negative cancer, one of the deadliest variations of the disease. 

This means Black women have to be especially aware and proactive about their breast health through self-exams at home (or with a partner) and talking to their doctor about their breast health during regular annual visits. That seems simple enough, right? 

The catch is, statistically, Black women very often do not have access to consistent health care and therefore have a much higher chance of missing life-saving breast exams. 

A 2014 study found that 20% of Black women in the U.S. are uninsured. The study goes on to state that continuation of care is paramount for health outcomes which are greatly affected by whether she is insured. 

It makes sense that patients who only see a doctor every few years would have less thorough experiences than those who are able to establish care with one provider consistently.

It is because of these disparities that institutions like Planned Parenthood are so vital to our community’s health, and why the threat of defunding them is a direct hit on Black and Brown communities and our right to health equity. 

Jacquline Ayers, who serves as the vice president of Government Relations and Public Policy for Planned Parenthood, spoke to BET to explain this monumental moment in health care access. “It is essentially an attack on Black communities,” she said, “This is a program that could expand access to breast cancer [resources], but this gag rule is making it impossible.”

She went on to explain that all 600 Planned Parenthood health sites were forced to withdraw from the Title X federal funding program this past summer in an effort to retain their ability to provide abortion services. 

Along with Planned Parenthood, eight states have also withdrawn from the program in an effort to protect abortion rights and replaced the federal grants with state funding.

“What that means is our ability to continue providing these services will be harmed,” Ayers said, “Anyone who is a low-income person or person of color or those living in rural or underserved areas are going to suffer. That includes breast exams and cancer screenings.” She went on to say that in 2017, Planned Parenthood provided 300,000 breast cancer screenings and over 200,000 screenings for other types of cancer. 

In an effort to fight back, Planned Parenthood is asking our community to call their senators to demand these programs be protected. 

A phone number, contact form and call script available on their website makes the process less intimidating for those who need guidance. Along with political action, it’s imperative that we remain diligently aware of our health status whether we are insured or not. 

(Photo: John M Lund Photography Inc)

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