On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the reformed Title X rules, also known as the Trump administration’s “gag rule”, that puts limits on what federally funded health care providers can tell patients about accessing abortion services.
Title X is a “federal grant program created in 1970 to provide comprehensive and confidential family planning services and preventive health services. Services provided include contraception counseling and provision, breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy diagnosis and counseling,” according to Physicians for Reproductive Health.
The Trump administration’s gag rule “bans doctors in the Title X program across the country from telling women how they can safely and legally access abortion,” making it “impossible for patients in the program to get birth control at places like Planned Parenthood,” even if those patients specifically ask about abortion services. Additionally, the “separation” rule would require that “abortion services be separated physically from other reproductive health care services,” according to Bangor Daily News.
In Maine, there is only one recipient of Title X funds: Maine Family Planning. They provide “high-quality, affordable reproductive health care” and “comprehensive sexual health education.” In March of 2019, they sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in U.S. District Court in Bangor. Maine Family Planning claimed that this rule violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. It would also force the nearly 20 Title X facilities in Maine to get rid of on-site abortion services, meaning that there would only be three publicly accessible abortion providers.
Judge Lance Walker, a Trump appointee, disagreed with this claim, saying that the “rule authorizes nondirective counseling, including abortion counseling; it only prohibits an abortion referral,” which is not a violation of the First Amendment. It is the second time that Judge Walker allowed the rule to remain in place.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, who is representing Maine Family Planning, said that they may appeal this decision to the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Emily Nestler, a senior staff attorney at this center, stated “we are disappointed that the judge did not recognize the very real harms this rule creates, not to mention the federal government’s utter disregard for how its actions will injure millions of people.” She went on, saying “this rule has dismantled the Title X program — a program that has been critical in helping low-income Mainers access contraception and other reproductive health care.”
Title X recipients that violated these new rules could lose their federal funds. Last year, Maine Family Planning said that it would operate without Title X funds if these rules remained in place.
Media Sources: Bangor News Daily: 06/10/2020, Maine Public 06/10/2020, American Medical Association 06/10/2020