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Supreme Court to weigh Trump HHS rule stripping abortion clinics of Title X funds

Supreme Court to weigh Trump HHS rule stripping abortion clinics of Title X funds

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 U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over the legality of the Trump administration’s "Protect Life Rule" barring Title X funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

In an order issued Monday, the high court consolidated three cases regarding the Title X funding dispute: American Medical Association v. Cochran, Oregon v. Cochran, and Cochran v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.

At issue is whether the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services acted lawfully when the Trump administration barred Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions from receiving Title X family planning funds.

In February 2019, HHS announced a finalized federal rule forbidding “the use of Title X funds to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.”

“Pursuant to congressional mandate, family participation is to be encouraged, particularly in services involving adolescents. And, from the start, Congress was clear that Title X funds cannot be used to support abortion,” stated HHS at the time.

“This final rule ensures that grants and contracts awarded under this program fully comply with the statutory program integrity requirements, thereby fulfilling the purpose of Title X, so that more women and men can receive services that help them consider and achieve both their short-term and long-term family planning needs.”

Later that year, Planned Parenthood withdrew from the Title X federal family planning program because of the requirement that clinics that receive the funds can’t refer patients or instruct patients on how to access abortion. Abortion rights advocates consider the regulation to be a “gag rule.” 

By March of that year, multiple lawsuits were filed by California, 21 other states plus the District of Columbia and by Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association.

“We welcome the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the Ninth Circuit’s erroneous opinion upholding a Trump administration rule that imposed drastic changes on the Title X federal family planning program,” a joint statement from the American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, American Civil Liberties Union and Essential Access Health states. 

“This rule continues to bring immense harm to people across the country who depend on affordable reproductive health care like birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment, among other essential health services that Title X provides.”

The organizations claim that the rule “disproportionately impacts Black and Brown patients who are more likely to face the worst health and economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life activist group Susan B. Anthony List, said she is confident that the high court will rule that the Trump administration and future administrations have the right to "disentangle Title X taxpayer funding from the abortion industry."

“Abortion is not ‘family planning’ and a strong majorityof Americans — including 65% of Independents and nearly one-third of Democrats — oppose taxpayer funding of abortion," Dannenfelser said in a statement. "The Protect Life Rule honors their will and the plain language of the Title X statute by stopping the funneling of Title X taxpayer dollars to the abortion industry, without reducing family planning funding by a dime.”

In June 2019, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals granted a stay on three injunctions made by lower courts against the new Title X rule.

But last September, the 4th Circuit upheld a lower court decision against the HHS rule in a vote of 9-6.

Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker, an Obama appointee, wrote in the majority opinion that the rule on Title X funds “failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country, and it arbitrarily estimated the cost of the physical separation of abortion services.”

“Several medical organizations submitted comments to HHS about the Final Rule, and all of them stated that the Final Rule would violate the established principles of medical ethics,” noted Thacker.

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