In February, the Trump-Pence administration released its dangerous domestic “gag rule,” despite widespread public outcry from medical professionals, advocates, and lawmakers.
The gag rule—like the international policy typically put into place by Republican administrations, and rescinded by their Democratic successors—is designed to make it impossible for patients to get birth control or preventive care from sexual and reproductive health-care providers like Planned Parenthood and others that offer comprehensive, medically accurate care, including providing or referring for abortion care.
Scheduled to take effect in early May, the gag rule bans clinicians from making abortion referrals and requires abortion providers to physically and financially separate their abortion care services from other family planning services.
Make no mistake, this gag rule is an attack on Title X, the nation’s only federal family planning program. It’s also an alarming attack on sexuality education.
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As vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood of New York City, I know intimately how critical comprehensive sexuality education is to empowerment and health more broadly. Sexuality education helps people gain the information, skills, and motivation to make healthy decisions about sex and sexuality.
Many people across backgrounds and age ranges have never had the sexuality education they deserve. Although New York City parents strongly support sex education, our city does not yet have a comprehensive sex education policy in place for all grades as recommended by National Sexuality Education Standards.
Current gaps in our city’s sexual health programming have long-standing effects on the overall well-being of our community. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence of any group, and 1 in 10 New York City teenagers report having experienced dating violence in the last year alone.
Trump’s “gag rule” puts our ability to fill in these major gaps in sexuality education in grave danger. And in the era of #MeToo, it’s clearer than ever that we should be expanding access to sexuality education for all people—not minimizing it.
The Title X program supports Planned Parenthood New York City’s education work across all areas. This includes youth programs (taught by both youth peer educators and professionals), community health promotion programs (including our adult sex education, programming focused on parents and caregivers teaching other parents and caregivers how to talk to their kids, and our Promotores de Salud program focused on Spanish-speaking Latinx communities), and our Training Institute, which provides education to health educators, social workers, and others who serve young people and adults.
Our communities deserve and need this education.
Countless studies illustrate that comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education reduces unintended pregnancy and STI rates, and helps youth communicate about sexuality and boundaries, understand healthy and unhealthy relationships, value bodily autonomy, and show respect for people of varying gender and sexual identities. It might even protect students’ academic success—studies show that healthy teens do better in school than their less healthy peers.
The Trump-Pence administration is putting the health and safety of our communities at risk by threatening access to sexuality education that can help them make the best decisions for themselves, their bodies, and their futures. All people have the right to lead healthy lives. We as a society have a responsibility to prepare them.
Title X helps ensure that every person—regardless of where they live, how much money they make, what their background is, and whether or not they have health insurance—has access to basic, preventive sexual and reproductive health care. That includes birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and annual health exams, as well as the comprehensive, affirming sexuality education they need.
According to Guttmacher Institute, the percentage of adolescent girls in the United States who reported having received formal instruction about birth control, STDs, HIV and AIDs, and how to say no to sex significantly declined between 2006-10 and 2011-13. There was also a significant decline in adolescent males receiving formal instruction about birth control. Much of this can be attributed to critical gaps in sexuality education nationwide, and may be exacerbated by a rising push for abstinence-only sex ed by conservative lawmakers.
Title X restrictions greatly impact youth access to sexuality education in every corner of our nation. But they will have a disproportionate effect on women, people of color, and low-income communities.
Everyone deserves high-quality, compassionate health care always, whether they are seeking abortion, birth control, a routine wellness visit, or comprehensive, affirming sexuality education. Individuals and their health-care providers should be making medical decisions, not politicians.