This week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco seeking an injunction to stop the abortion gag rule in Title X Family Planning Program funding from taking effect, which would affect more than 4 million low income women across the United States, and a coalition of at least 20 states plan on filing an injunction in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon as well.
Attorney General Becerra argued that the rule change is an “extraordinary overreach.” “HHS has exceeded the scope of its statutory authority and acted in a manner that is arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law,” Becerra wrote in the suit. The rule would deny “patients access to critical health care services and prevent doctors from providing comprehensive and accurate information about medical care.” “If existing health care providers are forced to decide whether to provide full and accurate information to patients, or forego federal Title X funding, numerous providers will have no choice but to sacrifice needed funds, to the detriment of the patients they serve.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown released a statement saying that, “everyone deserves the ability to make their own decisions about their healthcare. It is appalling that the federal government wants to rob individuals of the right to complete medical information and full access to the critical health care services they rely on.”
The two lawsuits argue that the new rule violates the Affordable Care Act which outlawed “unreasonable barriers to the ability of individuals to obtain appropriate medical care.” In Oregon, officials stated that the rule would “require health clinics to open another location, or create a separate entrance for patients, have separate examination rooms, hire separate personnel to work at separate workstations, maintain a separate phone number and website, and have separate electronic medical systems in order to continue to accept Title X funds.”
Oregon is one of twenty states filing a joint suit this week. Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, are part of the suit. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights will sue the administration over the rule as well.
This suit came after the Trump administration announced it is implementing a policy that prevents clinics that provide abortion counseling and referrals from receiving Title X Family Planning Program funding, funding that provides birth control, STD tests, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and reproductive health care to low-income and uninsured individuals. Under Title X, federal dollars already cannot directly fund abortion but this rule will make it harder for patients to seek the care and counseling they need.
In order to continue receiving Title X funding, health care providers must demonstrate clear physical and financial separation between abortion services and other reproductive health services. In some cases, patients must enter through different doors depending on which services they seek. According to Planned Parenthood President, Leana Wen, Planned Parenthood serves 41% of Title X patients but Planned Parenthood is estimated to lose $60 million in federal funding. “This rule will block doctors across the country from referring Title X patients for safe, legal abortion,” Wen said.
Media Resources: Washington Post 3/4/19; Feminist Newswire 2/28/19; NPR 2/22/19; AJMC 2/22/19; HHS 2/22/19