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the Body Politic
Vol. 01, No. 06 - June 1991, Page 9
Copyright © 1991, 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.

Rust vs Sullivan: Press Releases

Planned Parenthood Federation

Faye Wattleton, President

Today's outrageous Supreme Court ruling is an unimaginable blow to free speech and to the medical profession, as well as to our nation's poorest, most vulnerable women. In affirming the Reagan/Bush administrations' Title X "gag rule," the court has given government the green light to impose censorship on doctors and women and has reestablished separate and unequal justice in America - quality health care for those who can afford it, second-class care for those who cannot.

The gag rule is a conspiracy to abuse the rights of doctors and the privacy of women by forcing doctors to withhold information from women and interfering with the free speech and ethical responsibilities of the medical professionals. It would bar health care professionals in Title X clinics from providing a pregnant woman with information on all of her options, including legal abortion -- even if her health were at risk, and even if she asked for such information. The rule was invented by the Reagan administration to harass, misinform, and manipulate women who must rely on the government for health care. Just as the gag rule endangers women's health by denying them complete medical information, it constitutes mandatory malpractice by physicians who would agree to this kind of government censorship.

Another part of the regulations upheld by the court will force family planning organizations to physically and financially separate their Title X family planning clinics from any abortion-related activities. Yet Title X has never funded abortion, and government audits have shown that the existing separation between contraceptive and abortion services at these clinics has remained intact for 20 years. This is a transparent attempt to intimidate women and defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood that offer comprehensive reproductive health services in their clinics.

At the same time, the requirement to physically segregate clinical services will only contribute to future abortions by making it more difficult for women to receive contraceptive services and counseling following an abortion. Mr. Bush is evidently more intent on erecting walls and barriers than on truly meeting Americans' health care needs.

The court also upheld the extension of this harmful policy to private funds raised by family planning clinics for their Title X projects.

Since 1970, the Title X program has achieved remarkable success in fulfilling its congressional mandate. Publicly funded family planning clinics provide contraceptive series to 4.1 million women each year -- nearly one in four American women who use a reversible contraceptive method. Without these services, an additional 1.2 million unintended pregnancies would occur each year, resulting in 516,000 abortions and 509,000 unwanted births. Furthermore, for many women, Title X clinics are their only source of health care, providing preventive services that include pelvic and breast examinations, cancer screening, testing for sexually transmitted disease, and education about all methods of contraception.

Americans must not forget how the nation's family planning program came under attack. It began with Ronald Reagan's festering obsession with abortion. Now George Bush continues his anti-abortion offensive with the same extremism -- even to the point of opposing a program that successfully reduces the need for abortion. It is also a program that Texas Representative George Bush co-sponsored in Congress two decades ago.

Congress clearly intended for Title X to help needy women, not victimize them by subjecting them to second-class health care. The answer to today's ruling now lies again with Congress, which has before it the opportunity to clarify and restore the integrity of our nation's family planning program. We urge the Senate and House to reauthorize Title X, stripping the program of these injurious regulations and committing the necessary funding to the program's implementation.

While the Reagan/Bush administrations have spent the last 10 years trying to take away our choices, Planned Parenthood has a 75-year record of expanding them. That record will continue in spite of today's ruling. Planned Parenthood will not abandon the women who depend on us for health care services. Once the full effects of today's decision have become clear, we will implement the necessary steps to ensure high quality care for all our clients, regardless of their economic situation. We will continue to offer a range of family planning services -- including counseling and referrals for abortion -- at hundreds of clinical sites nationwide. And despite the cruel and ongoing efforts of the Bush administration to undermine our fundamental mission, Planned Parenthood will continue to provide choices for American women, men, and families, with abiding respect for their right to personal privacy and individual dignity.

National Abortion Rights Action League

Kate Michelman, Executive Director

This ruling is an enormous shock, far worse even than we feared, and undeniable evidence that the "chill wind" blowing from this Supreme Court threatens our most fundamental inalienable rights and liberties.

Today this nation saw the true impact of the re-alignment of the Supreme Court by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Any hope that Justice Souter would respect our fundamental right to privacy and right to choose expired this morning. This ruling provides clear evidence that a dangerous and destructive shift on the Court already has occurred. Justice Blackmun was right to say that this decision is "nearly as noxious as overruling Roe directly."

This decision is callous and will have a devastating impact on the health and well-being of women who rely on federally supported health care facilities. It sends an alarming signal about the Court's intent to allow politicians to interfere in our most personal and fundamental decisions regarding privacy and our right to choose.

The pro-choice political and electoral mandate is more compelling than ever. Because the Supreme Court will not protect our fundamental right to reproductive choice, Congress must do so by passing the Freedom of Choice Act and establishing a national standard of protection for our rights.

Family Planning Advocates

Shirley Gordon, Executive Director

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Coercive Family Planning Regulations
Ignores Threat to Poor Women's Health, Lives

The decision handed down today by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Case of Rust v. Sullivan sets several dangerous precedents with far-reaching implications, according to reproductive health advocates. The Court upheld a "gag rule" which coerces doctors and family planning clinicians into silence on the subject of abortion in exchange for continued federal family planning funds. The ban affects hundreds of clinics throughout New York State which serve over 300,000 poor women and teenagers by forbidding health professionals from giving accurate medical information to patients in their care.

"It is clearly an attempt to suppress vital medical information in order to advance a political agenda," stated Shirley Gordon, Executive Director for Family Planning Advocates of New York State. "The Court failed to recognize that these restrictions place providers in an intolerable position, forcing them to betray the trust of a doctor-patients relationship, violate medical ethics and ultimately jeopardize their patients' health, or risk losing federal funding for poor women's preventive health care," according to Gordon.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Justices ruled permissible this effort by the Reagan and Bush administrations to punish poor women who rely on family planning clinics by denying them information that health providers are required to make available to all other patients," said Gordon. The limitations are so stringent that even some women with severe diabetes, AIDS, or sickle cell anemia whose lives or health are endangered by continuation of pregnancy will not be able to get information concerning abortion. Women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or carrying a severely deformed fetus will be stonewalled, leading to later and riskier abortions.

"This is a terrible infringement on a woman's right to make her own well-informed choices about reproductive health, regardless of how much she earns," Gordon concluded.

ACLU: Reproductive Freedom Project

Rachael N. Pine, Kathryn Kolbert, Janet Benshoof and Julie Mertus.


In perhaps the most significant setback for reproductive freedom and free speech in a decade, on May 23, 1991, the United States Supreme court upheld government censorship in federally funded family planning programs. At issue in Rust v. Sullivan are "gag rules" that prohibit physicians and counselors who receive federal funds under Title X of the Public Health Service Act from providing accurate information about, and making medically appropriate referrals for, abortion. The regulations require that all pregnant women be referred to prenatal care providers that promote the life and health of "mother and unborn child." They also require that clinics physically and financially separate their Title X programs from the provision of both abortion and abortion counseling and referral services. These regulations are a frontal attack on abortion and family planning.

The Court's decision affects the central funding source for almost 4,000 family planning organizations across the nation that serve nearly 5 million low-income women annually. The decision is a sweeping reaffirmation of the virtual absence of any constitutional protection for the reproductive rights of low-income women. It also gives government a frightening degree of authority to manipulate and censor the speech of health professionals funded under any public program.

As we learned in 1977, when the Court condoned discrimination against low-income women by permitting the government to deny access by cutting of Medicaid payments for abortion, low-income women remain the most vulnerable and expendable target as the Court moves to restrict reproductive choice, including the right to use birth control. Millions of Title X patients cannot afford to go elsewhere for health care. The denial of government funding is thus tantamount to the total elimination of a right. The Court's ruling also exacerbates the discrimination already inherent in our country's health care system -- those wealthy enough to find quality medical care will find it; the remainder are forced to seek medical care thought the prism of government censorship and deceit.

National Organization for Women

Marilyn Fitterman, President NYS Affiliate

NOW-NYS Predicts Death Warrant for Free Speech

I have not seen the text of the Rust v. Sullivan decision and cannot make a comprehensive statement. However, if it is true that the Court upheld a prohibition on abortion related speech for federally funded Family Planning clinics, then the ruling is more appalling than even the Webster decision.

This ruling chills the First Amendment rights of physicians and interferes, perhaps with fatal consequences, with health provisions for all women.

Abroad, this rationale has manifested as the Mexico City Policy -- a major contribution to world-wide illegal abortion related fatalities.

The ruling, the product of an increasingly ideologically packed Supreme Court, is a death-knell for the First Amendment and for privacy rights throughout the United States.

What we are feeling are the effects of the Reagan-Bush legacy. In fact, federal funds have not been used for abortions since 1977. This ruling will gag the doctors of over 4 million American women who use publicly funded clinics. The Reagan-Bush Supreme Court has undermined the First Amendment to further their anti-choice political agenda.

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