Note From The Commissioner: Decisions about Medical Care Should be Based on Science, Not Ideology

On Monday, at our Druid Health Clinic, doctors and nurses stood with Mayor Catherine Pugh and our entire Baltimore City federal delegation – Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, and John Sarbanes – to voice our strong opposition to the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to Title X family planning services. These changes will hurt four million people, many of whom already bear the brunt of health disparities and inequities, including women of color and low-income individuals.

Here in Baltimore, the Health Department oversees Title X funding for the City, which is distributed to 22 sites. In 2016, our Title X clinics served more than 17,000 patients. Title X is a major contributor to historic lows in unintended pregnancy in our City; teen birth rates decreased 61 percent between 2000 and 2016. Title X funding has also supported clinics so they can provide other vital services, including cervical cancer testing, mental health screenings, HIV counseling, and specialist referrals that many residents would otherwise be unable to afford.

These gains in health outcomes that we worked so hard to achieve could be rolled back overnight. Many safety net clinics will be forced to close their doors, just because they are associated with organizations that provide abortions. This makes no sense to me, as a doctor and a public health leader. If the goal is to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, why take away funding for family planning and evidence-based contraception?

Moreover, the so-called “gag rule” in the proposed changes will prohibit doctors, nurses, and social workers from referring pregnant women to legal, evidence-based reproductive health options, or even discussing them. Any clinic receiving Title X funding would be required to have their doctors and nurses withhold healthcare information from their patients or compel them to provide incomplete, misleading, and inaccurate advice. The “gag rule” severely undermines patients’ rights and degrades the very nature of the provider-patient relationship. It also goes against the fundamental values and ethical principles governing the healing professions.

By standing with our federal delegation this week, we health professionals made clear that decisions about medical care should be based on science, not ideology. Reproductive healthcare is a critical part of every woman’s healthcare. Health cannot be a privilege reserved for only those who can afford it – health is and must be a fundamental human right.

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