AMA, Planned Parenthood urge SCOTUS to overturn HHS rule barring Title X funding for abortion providers

The exterior of a Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center is seen on May 28, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri.
The exterior of a Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center is seen on May 28, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. | Getty Images/Michael B. Thomas

The American Medical Association has partnered with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and others to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review a Trump administration rule banning abortion providers from receiving Title X funding.

The petition, submitted Thursday, comes as two U.S. appellate courts have reached different conclusions regarding the constitutionality of the Department of Health and Human Services’ “Protect Life” rule, which was implemented in 2019. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia, has found the rule invalid while the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, California, has ruled that the Trump administration can continue to enforce it.

The Trump administration’s “Protect Life” rule prevents recipients of Title X funding from using the funds to “perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Last summer, Planned Parenthood withdrew from the Title X program rather than abide by the new requirements. Title X, first enacted 50 years ago, provides millions of low-income or uninsured Americans with “a broad range of family planning and related preventative health services.”

According to the petition, “the consequences of the rule are clear and stark—and already occurring.” Petitioners cited a decrease of nearly 1,000 Title X sites after Planned Parenthood and other abortion-affiliated clinics decide to close rather than cease referring or performing abortions at those clinics. Planned Parenthood and other providers' decision to close their abortion clinics resulted in a 21% drop in the number of annual patients in 2019, the AMA added, citing what it described as an example of the rule’s negative repercussions.

Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the AMA, pleaded with the Supreme Court to overturn the rule. “Our nation’s highest court must step in to remove government overreach and interference in the patient-physician relationship,” she said.

“Restricting the information that physicians can provide to their Title X patients blocks honest, informed conversations about all health care options—an unconscionable violation that is essentially a gag rule,” Bailey argued. “As physicians and leaders in medicine, we are fighting against the government’s intrusion in the exam room while protecting open communication between patients and physicians, which is the foundation of high-quality medical care.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, argued that the “Protect Life” rule has had a disproportionate impact on minorities and the poor. “Since our health centers and others have been forced out, people who have always faced systemic barriers to health care — including those in rural areas, as well as black, Latino, and indigenous communities — have suffered the most. Health care should never come down to how much you earn or where you live.”

In a statement, Mia Palmieri Heck, director of external affairs at HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, promised to defend the rule. After dismissing the characterization of the “Protect Life” rule as a so-called gag rule, Heck stressed that “HHS aims to ensure the integrity of the program so that more women and men are provided services that help them consider and achieve both their short-term and long-term family planning needs.”

Conservatives and pro-life activists have long explained that giving Title X programming subsidies to Planned Parenthood only subsidizes the abortion industry because the "money is fungible."

Over the last several years, Planned Parenthood has received over $500 million in taxpayer funding each year.  

In August 2019, the Family Research Council released a brief on how the Title X "Protect Life Rule" works.

The FRC brief explained: "Because money is fungible, this ensures that taxpayer dollars are not sent to programs where they end up subsidizing the abortion industry. ... "Trump’s regulations also remove the abortion referral requirement put in place by [former President Bill] Clinton’s administration. This opens the door for pro-life and faith-based organizations to apply for Title X funds."

Depending on the results of the presidential election, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers could soon find themselves back in the Title X program. Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden has vowed to reverse the Trump administration’s “Protect Life” rule should he win the election.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the fundraising arm of the abortion giant, has endorsed Biden for president and promised to triple its spending to benefit the Democratic Party in the 2020 election cycle. 

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