Planned Parenthood defunding — Is El Salvador a cautionary tale for U.S. reproductive rights?

It’s an ominous portent that Planned Parenthood announced its forced pull out from U.S. federal funding the very same day a Salvadoran woman’s trial for delivering a stillborn finally ended.

The situation in El Salvador presents a cautionary tale to the United States. Back in 2017, Evelyn Hernandez Cruz, now 21, was found guilty of homicide in El Salvador — a nation with one of the world’s strictest bans on abortion. An attempt to reform that ban, predicated on Roman Catholic doctrine, failed last year in El Salvador’s Congress.

Unbelievably, this young woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for having undergone an involuntary and life-threatening stillbirth. Instead of receiving caring support after being found unconscious in a latrine in her village in April 2016, this high school student was treated like a criminal. After she was taken to a hospital, officials there reported her to the police. She spent 33 months in prison before being released this year to await her second trial until her belated acquittal yesterday. Even during the retrial last week, prosecutors argued that this teenager should have known she was pregnant and sought prenatal care.

While Cruz was thankfully acquitted eventually, several other women in her situation are in prison or face prosecution in El Salvador. Is this the future in the United States?

As of today, U.S. women’s access to reproductive health care, already imperiled, has become more endangered, especially for those who are low-income. Trump has imposed a domestic gag order on Title X, the federal program that for nearly half a century has successfully been offering contraception, pregnancy tests, cancer screenings and STD testing for low-income patients. To continue receiving such funding, Planned Parenthood would have been forced to create separate facilities for abortion care, and barred from referring patients seeking abortions. In this ludicrous scenario, Title X clinics could give a patient a list of physicians, including some who may perform abortion care, yet could not indicate who on that list provides abortion care.

So yesterday, Planned Parenthood announced that it will withdraw from this federal family planning program. It has received about $60 million annually in federal funds to conscientiously serve more than 1.5 million low-income women every year, including 40 percent of all Title X recipients. In some states, such as Utah, Planned Parenthood has been the only group receiving Title X funds. In other states, it is the main provider. This defunding is a disaster.

Title X very obviously prevents unwanted pregnancies, thereby preventing many abortions. But try telling that to the rabid Religious Right in charge of our government today.

Planned Parenthood’s announcement is no surprise, as Monday was the deadline for it to show compliance in order to remain eligible. Dr. Diane Foley, a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services who has compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, has been put in charge of Title X. She had previously headed two phony “crisis pregnancy centers.” She once inveighed that abortion is “a battle that is happening in the heavenly realms that Satan doesn’t want to lose.”

There is a further state/church issue. To heap insult upon injury, HHS appears ready to essentially start transferring Title X funding from Planned Parenthood to “faith-based” providers and other anti-abortion outfits. Many of these entities already manage to receive public funding, and now they are poised to use our federal dollars to not deliver legal reproductive health care and referrals to American women in need.

The Guttmacher Institute has correctly stated, “The Trump administration is seeking to transform Title X from an agent of reproductive autonomy to a tool of government-sponsored reproductive coercion.” And the New York Times insightfully editorialized today, “This whole sorry affair is a reminder that while many Americans are rightly afraid of a future without reproductive rights, in some ways that future is already here.”

An El Salvador-type scenario in the United States may not be that far on the horizon.

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