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From private Christian schools to faith-based homeschools, one common denominator is a desire not to teach impressionable youngsters useful information about the real world, but to conceal it.

In fact, virtually the entire evangelical movement is focused on saturating kids with religious indoctrination before the natural effects of living in the real world have time to significantly shape their long-term world views and attitudes.

The Religious Right also employs such religion-based information concealment when dealing with adults, often far beyond church pews.

No education, please

The latest episode of this disingenuous tactic is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) new edict released Feb. 22 that prohibits federally funded family planning clinics from educating patients about abortion options or referring them to providers, and requires them to maintain a “clear physical and financial separation” between government-funded programs and all organizations that provide abortions or abortion referrals.

Keep in mind that abortions in the United States are not only fully legal within prescribed parameters, but have been consistently ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision first legalized abortion in America.

Yet, for conservative religious reasons of core voters, the Trump administration has decided to do an end-around that reality by using this HHS ruling as “an indirect way to defund Planned Parenthood, which has long been a target of antiabortion activists as the nation’s largest provider of reproductive care services, including abortions,” according to a Feb. 22 Washington Post news article.

Fed money to faith-based groups

The crux of HHS’s new mandate is that abortion or abortion-referral agencies are now barred from participating in the $286 million federal family planning programs, which is expected to end up diverting millions of dollars from secular women’s health providers such as Planned Parenthood to faith-based organizations.

The net result is low-income women will be forced to learn about faith-based, not evidence-based reproductive options.

Critics of the new rule, including 15 governors and the American Medical Association, contend that it is simply a “gag rule” that will “undermine the physician-patient relationship,” and they are threatening legal action in their states to block its permanent execution.

Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen, who has decried the rule as “unconscionable and unethical,” said women’s gynecological health services should be no different than any other medical issue.

“Imagine if the Trump administration prevented doctors from talking to our patients with diabetes about insulin,” said asked rhetorically. “It would never happen. Reproductive health should be no different.”

Poor women lose most

Poor women are the biggest losers under the onslaught of Religious Right anti-abortion activism. Wen said Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of Title X patients (representing about 4 million low-income women), currently receives about $60 million in federal funds for family planning it would be unable to accept under the rule due to the organization’s ethical obligations to patients. Planned Parenthood was earlier prohibited from performing abortions with Title X funds.

The irony is that family planning — using education, contraceptives, abortion or referrals — is what Planned Parenthood is all about. It just doesn’t have a religious motivator. Their critics, on the other hand, only endorse faith-based family planning strategies that pointedly exclude abortion and, sometimes, even contraception.

It is opaque in the extreme how this rule would lessen or help prevent unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and other significant personal and societal issues related to sexual behavior. What it will do is reduce legal abortions and, inevitably, increase birth rates, especially among the young and poor.

A culture-war attack

The Post article pointed out that,

“The new rule is part of a broader effort by the administration’s social conservatives to reshape how the federal government treats a wide range of culture-war issues, including family planning, abortion and LGBTQ rights.”

Proponents claim that the new rule will help “disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood,” as if the only reason Planned Parenthood exists is to defraud the government and cynically make money preying on vulnerable women.

Anti-abortion activists, who have lured the administration on board with the promise of votes, peddle to low-income women such moot family planning techniques as abstinence and the rhythm method, both of which surveys have consistently shown to be abysmally ineffective as pregnancy preventers. In late 2018, HHS announced a new Title X policy that prioritized natural (meaning no abortions or contraceptives) family planning and abstinence counseling. That rule also required clinics to give “non-directive” pregnancy counseling that did not include abortion information or referrals for such.

Promoting abstinence

Just like the miserably failed U.S. high-school sexual abstinence programs, it’s impossible to see how HHS’s new rules will remedy any of our society’s negative consequences of ill-considered and — more to the point, ill-informed — sexual behavior. In fact, it inevitably will make them worse.

The new rule will, on the other hand, greatly improve the sense of smug, self-satisfaction among those in the Religious Right, that they can effectively keep low-income women ill-informed about sexuality and unable to access the best solutions to preventing and ending unwanted pregnancy.

Heaven forbid we give poor mothers full information about all their legally available reproductive options, and then let them each decide for themselves that they want to do, not leave that up to some religious zealot consulting with a sky god.

Or government.


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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...