The Department of Reproductive Control Is the Health Agency of Our Dystopian Future

"We're making your reproductive choices so you don’t have to."

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Jul 18 2018, 11:36pm

"I came here to get an IUD and they gave me information on the rhythm method," a woman at a health clinic says to the camera. The man clutching her shoulder proudly chimes in: "The pamphlet is free."

The man is an employee of the Department of Reproductive Control (DRC), the agency that makes choices for women so they don't have to. He later interrupts a doctor in an exam room to talk about abstinence-only education and sits in on another conversation where a doctor is bleeped when she says the word "abortion." Behind the clinic's receptionist is the agency logo, encircled in chains, with a crest bearing the Latin phrase for "Do as we say, not as we do."

Advertisements for the DRC are running on Hulu, on social media, and, this week, on mobile billboards in New York City. People have already spotted them:

The DRC is not a real government agency—yet. But all of the policies described in the video are real. You'll learn as much if you go to the satirical agency's website, thedrc.us. The video and site are part of a campaign that launched Monday to call attention to the Trump administration's proposed changes to Title X, the country's only family planning program, as well as other attacks on birth control and abortion. The campaign's intention is to get people to submit a formal comment opposing the proposed changes to Title X before the public comment period ends on July 31. (You can submit a comment here.)

Title X provides grant money to family planning clinics that provide birth control, STD testing and treatment, and cancer screenings to 4 million low income or uninsured people every year (funds can't be used for abortion). It's how some clinics can provide low- or no-cost services but they don't go around telling people "Title X grants paid for your appointment today."

The Trump administration has proposed changes that would drastically reshape the program by both promoting natural family planning methods over FDA-approved forms of birth control and by banning grant recipients from even making referrals for abortion, let alone providing them with non-federal funds. Doctors and reproductive rights advocates call this a "gag rule" because healthcare providers would no longer be able to discuss abortion with their pregnant patients. To top it all off, the person in charge of doling out Title X grants is an anti-choice extremist who used to run crisis pregnancy centers and has compared abortion to the Holocaust.

“The Trump administration has made its opposition to reproductive freedom clear, so we’re calling a spade a spade and calling out its ultimate objective. By ending Title X as we know it, rolling back the birth control benefit, and eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, President Trump is quietly creating a Department of Reproductive Control, intended to remove Americans’ reproductive healthcare choices,” Amy Runyon-Harms of Americans for Affordable Birth Control, the group behind the campaign, said in a statement.

So while the agency is satirical, the campaign shows a future where the changes the administration wants are implemented for everyone, not just for people who benefit from programs like Title X. "So much of what you see the DRC doing is already a reality for millions of Americans and the public just doesn’t know it yet," Runyon-Harms tells me. As the man in the video says: "Don’t worry, we’ve been testing these changes out on poor people and other marginalized communities for years. The broader population never seemed to notice so now we’re rolling them out nationwide.”

Translation: Wake up and fight back. "We do have this opportunity in front of us with the proposed rule regarding Title X so our goal is to get as many people to take notice about how very scary some of these changes are and take action by submitting their comments against the rule."

For anyone who might say the campaign is merely a scare tactic, Runyon-Harms stands firm. "The threats to reproductive healthcare in our country are very real and very serious so we wanted to call out the Trump administration’s true policy goal here, which is to control women’s reproductive rights while showing the public what, unfortunately, is not far from reality at all," she says. "This campaign, the Department of Reproductive Control, is essentially a glimpse into what’s happening to millions of Americans, particularly in communities of color. Our hope is that people will take notice, and take action."

And running the ads on Hulu, the network that's home to the Handmaid's Tale, was definitely intentional. "We do also believe that a lot of the folks who would watch the Handmaid’s Tale would be interested in this particular issue and would want to learn more about ways the Trump administration is trying to control reproductive healthcare in this country," Runyon-Harms tells me. The ads will run nationwide on Hulu until July 31, when the comment period closes.

She says mobile billboards are driving around New York this week and will stop at places like Battery Park, Times Square, and Washington Square Park—"all places where folks of diverse backgrounds will see this campaign and want to learn more and take action." The billboards include messages like "Making it easier to avoid the sin of birth control" and "When it comes to your body, we’ll do the decision-making for you.”

The phrase on the DRC crest, "do as we say, not as we do," calls out the hypocrisy of the Trump administration, Runyon-Harms says—"for example, the administration is making birth control harder to get for millions of Americans while their own access is not likely to be affected," she says (fitting in the cases of multiple anti-choice lawmakers). The crest also includes the letters HHS backwards, for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Title X—"SHH" is in reference to the proposed gag rule. The chains around the logo are potentially a reference to forced motherhood.

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