Upholding reproductive rights

Women’s Health Specialists braces for the Trump years

Kimberly Edmonds, regional manager for Women’s Health Specialists of California, says the clinic will survive the Trump administration.

Kimberly Edmonds, regional manager for Women’s Health Specialists of California, says the clinic will survive the Trump administration.

Photo by Howard Hardee

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It’s written into the California Constitution: When it comes to reproductive health, citizens are medically emancipated at 12 years old. From that age forward, girls don’t need a legal guardian’s permission to start using birth control, get a pap smear or have an abortion.

And that’s just one example of state law that supports broad access to reproductive health services, said Eileen Schnitger, director of public policy for Women’s Health Specialists of California. The nonprofit has clinics in Chico, Redding, Sacramento, Grass Valley and Rancho Cordova, where, contrary to popular belief, women don’t need a referral from a primary care physician to make an appointment.

“Anybody in California can pick up the phone and make an appointment with their health care provider of choice,” Schnitger said. “California has pretty strong laws to protect people’s rights.”

The federal government does, too—at least for now. Critics have expressed concern that President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court may help overturn the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade. If that comes to pass, all women will lose their federal right to have an abortion.

That possibility couldn’t help but color “Celebrate Choice: Protect Roe,” the Women Health Specialists’ annual celebration of Roe v. Wade in Chico on Friday (Jan. 27), just a few days before Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the high court. Though the overall mood was upbeat, conversations often turned to the burgeoning barrage against reproductive rights.

On Jan. 24, North State Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) voted in favor of House Resolution 7, which prohibits federal dollars from funding abortion services. Also known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017, the bill makes permanent the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976 and says federal money can’t be used to fund abortions. It also amends the Affordable Care Act to disallow premium tax credits on plans that cover abortion services. The bill passed the GOP-controlled House by a 238-183 vote and is awaiting approval by the Senate.

The day before, Trump had reinstated the Mexico City policy, also referred to as the global gag rule, which blocks federal funding for nongovernmental organizations abroad that provide abortion counseling or referrals, advocate to decriminalize abortion or expand abortion services. The U.S. Agency for International Development has observed the law 17 of the last 32 years—not coincidentally, years when Republican presidents were in office.

“That’s an international way of saying, ‘If you even talk about abortions, we’re not going to provide you with funding,’” said Kimberly Edmonds, regional manager of Women’s Health Specialists. “We want to make sure that doesn’t happen at a domestic level, because that would close places like us.”

The clinic’s staff believes HR 7 and the gag rule are just a glimpse of what’s to come. In January, House Speaker Paul Ryan formally announced that GOP lawmakers intend to strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood with a budget bill that would also repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has also threatened to eliminate Title X, the only federal grant program that supports comprehensive family planning, but there’s no telling what he’ll actually do, Edmonds said. “The unpredictability of it is alarming. I’m just trying to take a deep breath and take it as it comes. There’s not really another way to handle it.”

One program administered by Women’s Health Specialists is especially vulnerable: Family PACT.

The Legislature established the Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program through the Office of Family Planning in 1997 to provide confidential services to low-income residents. It helps teens and adults obtain birth control and educational counseling from clinics such as Planned Parenthood and Women’s Health Specialists.

The problem is that 90 percent of Family PACT’s funding comes from federal sources, Schnitger said. “So, if the new presidential administration was going to cut funding to California, that’s where it would hurt the largest number of people.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, Schnitger said. People can support Women’s Health Specialists by donating, volunteering and speaking up. “Talk to your elected officials,” she said. “Tell your community leaders what it means to cut off low-income people’s reproductive health care.”

Staff at the clinic took heart in the Women’s March in Chico and cities throughout the country. With continued support, Women’s Health Specialists will persevere for the next four years, Edmonds said—just as it did under President Ronald Reagan and through both Bush administrations.

“This isn’t a new fight for us. The struggle to provide access to abortion services didn’t start on Jan. 20,” she said, referring to Trump’s inauguration. “It’s continued every day since abortion became legal. Of course, we have a lot of big challenges ahead of us, but we’re going to continue fighting the way we have for the last 44 years.”