HHS Secretary Clarifies that Title X Proposal Is Not a Gag Rule, Does Not Prohibit Abortion Counseling

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Posted: Jun 06, 2018 2:00 PM

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar cleared up some misconceptions Wednesday regarding the Trump administration's proposed Title X rule which would block federal funding for family planning from organizations that perform or refer for abortions. He explained to Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) that it was not a “gag rule” as it still permits abortion counseling.

Davis told Azar she had difficult seeing how the proposed rule, which she referred to as "a domestic gag rule," would benefit women “if we’re putting these restrictions even thinking about that in a domestic way, this includes referrals, this includes every kind of service that could be provided in this area.”

“The Title X proposed regulation does not have a proposed gag rule in it,” Azar responded, “that was something from a past administration. That was not in the proposed rule. We actually allow non-directive counseling related to abortion services in the proposal.”

This is something the White House has explicitly pointed out in a statement about the rule. Democratic lawmakers and abortion groups have ignored the distinction and insist upon labeling the policy a “gag rule.”

Davis also questioned Azar as to the benefits of the Trump administration’s expansion of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy which bans funding overseas to organizations that promote, refer for, or provide abortions. She claimed that abortion rates actually rose by 20 percent in the countries affected by the rule during the Bush administration.

The authors of the one study, cited by the World Health Organization which makes the claim that abortion rates rose, admit that they were “unable to draw definitive conclusions about the underlying cause of this increase,” but nevertheless claim that “the complex interrelationships between family planning services and abortion may be involved.”

The accuracy of Davis’s claim aside, Azar responded by reminding her that the point of the policy is to ensure that federal funds do not go to pay for abortions overseas. 

“The important principle that the administration’s taking with this policy is to ensure that no federal monies are going in any way to support directly or indirectly the provision of abortion services abroad,” he explained.

Azar also cited a State Department review of the policy, pointing out that the effects were minimal. The review found that just four of 733 organizations receiving the funding declined to accept the terms of the policy.

“No HHS grantees were unable to comply with the demands and I believe of 1300 grantees across the U.S. government, 729 had received new funding and were subject to it,” he said.