(Adapted from a post I wrote for Leaven for the Loaf.)
The Trump Administration has announced a proposed Health and Human Services rule that would prevent federal Title X (Ten) family planning money from going to abortion providers. That’s “proposed.” It’s a long road from announcement to implementation. Some pro-lifers are cheering as though it’s a done deal, and abortion providers are screaming as only people who’ve been hit in the wallet can scream.
Take a breath, folks. The proposed rule is good news. It would protect taxpayers from involvement in the abortion industry. But the rule is not in place yet, and may never be. The President has announced a proposal. Tip of the iceberg, you might say. To see what the rest of it looks like, feast your eyes on the rulemaking process as described in the Federal Register.
But, still – this is a start.
The outraged wails of abortion advocates are reminding me of the similar reaction to the Supreme Court’s 1991 Rust decision, establishing that it’s permissible for the federal government to tell family planning clinics that they can’t use taxpayer funds to perform, refer for, or counsel for abortions – since, after all, abortion is not family planning. Then, as now, abortion advocates called funding restrictions a “gag rule.” They called funding restrictions a violation of freedom of speech, instead of what they are: protection of the conscience rights of people who don’t want to help pay for any aspect of abortion.
(A couple of years after the Rust decision, President Clinton suspended the regulations that Rust had okayed – and ever since, abortion providers have lined up for Title X funds every budget cycle.)
As for indignant cries of “gag rule,” the most strident critics of the proposed Title X rule are not noted for their defense of First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. They only discovered the First Amendment when abortion providers’ pocketbooks were threatened.
Back in ’91, just after the Rust decision, I got a letter from my then-Congressman claiming that the decision was a “devastating blow” to free speech, on the grounds that agencies using Title X funds were being forbidden to counsel for abortions. This was from a man who had for office on a claim that he opposed sending taxpayer funding or subsidies for abortion. He recognized when he ran for office that there is a difference between family planning and abortion, and he realized that family planning funds in the hands of abortion providers simply free up other funds within the providers’ budgets for use in abortions.
Then abortion providers started accusing my Congressman of opposing free speech. Worked like a charm, since no one wants to be accused of violating the First Amendment. He changed his tune.
Today, just as in 1991, it literally pays to disguise funding as free speech. Hence the revival of the misleading term “gag rule.”
The essence of the President’s proposed rule is this, which is no different from the Reagan rule that led to the Rust decision: Title X is for family planning. Abortion is not family planning. Congress is within its rights to forbid abortion providers from using a grant for purposes unrelated to the grant’s goals. If you counsel for, refer for, or perform abortions, you may do so without using family planning funds.
The response from the abortion industry is this: I’ll promote what I please; you should pay for that promotion; refusal to pay equals censorship.
Providers who do both abortions and family planning could, if they chose, separate out the abortion business and do it as a separate enterprise, with separate facilities, equipment, funding and staffing. Title X grants for family planning would then not entangle taxpayers in abortion in any way. But that’s not the path abortion providers want to take.
It’s worth remembering that while the President’s proposed rule is a pro-life initiative, it has no bearing on the right to life. It doesn’t recognize the personhood or humanity of any preborn child. What it does is respect the conscience rights of taxpayers who don’t want to help subsidize abortions.
Even that is more than abortion advocates can tolerate.
Ellen Kolb is a pro-life writer and activist in New Hampshire. She writes about pro-life issues at Leaven for the Loaf.
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