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This Trump Administration Policy Could Cause STD Rates to Rise

The Trump administration’s latest efforts to tighten abortion laws could backfire and actually lead to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the US, public health experts say.

It’s due to a domestic version of the “global gag rule” that the administration proposed last month — a policy that restricts federal family planning funding from being used by clinics that offer abortion services.

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Although federal funding for abortions is already prohibited, the policy would make it more difficult for clinics that offer abortion-related services (including referrals) to use funds from Title X — a federal grant program established in 1970 to make birth control and reproductive health care affordable — for other purposes.

Title X funds are typically used by clinics and organizations like Planned Parenthood to provide services such as STD testing, HIV treatment, and breast cancer screenings.

While experts initially said the policy, if implemented, is more likely to do harm than good and would put young women with low incomes at  a disadvantage in particular, they are now saying it could also hinder efforts to stop the recent rise in STDs across the country.

If forced to choose between dropping services like contraception and abortion referrals in order to continue receiving Title X funding or foregoing Title X funding altogether, public health experts believe that many family planning clinics will choose the latter.

"These principles [of offering comprehensive services] are near and dear to them," David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told Kaiser Health News. "If the changes are enacted we fear many programs would decide not to take Title X funding."

Read more: This Trump White House Policy Will Have a Staggering Impact on Poor US Women

With less funding available to them, family planning clinics would have fewer resources to support their service offerings, including STD testing, treatment, and outreach — and the timing couldn’t be worse.

STD rates in the US have reached record highs, according to the Center for Disease Control

More than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported across the country in 2016. The CDC estimates that about 20 million infections are sexually transmitted every year and that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for half of those cases.

The administration’s policy could be especially devastating for these young people, experts say, because they are more likely to go to health clinics that use Title X funding to seek testing and treatment for privacy reasons, according to NPR.

The increased restrictions on uses of federal funding could mean that young people who do not want to use their parents’ insurance for STD-related health services will simply skip testing and treatment if health clinics can no longer offer them at affordable rates through Title X. 

With fewer places to turn for safe and affordable testing and treatment, the rate of new STD cases among young people in the US is unlikely to slow.

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