Staging Next Abortion Fight, Trump Bars Clinic Referrals

Abortion-rights protesters hold signs as anti-abortion activists rally in front of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in Denver on Feb. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration announced a new regulation Friday that would withhold federal grant dollars from groups that provide abortions or referrals for abortions.

The changes are to Title X, a federal program that provides birth control and other reproductive health care services to more than 4 million low-income people in the United States. Under the rules change the Trump administration announced Friday, groups that receive money under the program would be barred from providing abortion referrals to patients.

The rule would also require groups receiving federal funds under Title X to maintain “clear financial and physical separation” from centers that provide abortions. While the law already prohibits federal dollars from going toward abortions, anti-abortion groups have long criticized the walls that groups put up to comply with these rules as essentially meaningless.

This requirement could especially be a blow to Planned Parenthood, the largest single abortion provider in the country, serving about 1.6 million Title X patients for whom it receives about $60 million per year in federal funds.

Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, decried the new rules as “illegal” and “unethical,” and vowed to fight them in court.

“None of these requirements contribute to the health and well-being of patients,” Wen told reporters on a conference call Friday. “They have no basis in medicine or science. Their only purpose is to restrict patients’ access to reproductive health care.”

Wen suggested that if the rule went into effect, Planned Parenthood might not apply for grants under the program during the next grant cycle.

“Planned Parenthood cannot participate in a program that would force our health care providers to compromise their ethics,” Wen said Friday.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocacy groups have referred to the changes as a “gag rule,” saying they will reduce care options for women and prevent health care providers from giving their patients accurate medical advice. Because the program is targeted to low-income people, opponents of the rule also say it will disproportionately come down on minority women. 

Anti-abortion advocates, such as the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the rule on Friday, saying it would make the program “truly about funding family planning, not abortion.”

“The Protect Life Rule does not cut family planning funding by a single dime and instead directs tax dollars to entities that provide health care to women but do not perform abortions,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Carrie Flaxman, the deputy director of public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood, said the group is still reviewing the rule and planning how it will respond in court.

“We’re evaluating all of our legal options and we’ll do everything we can to fight back,” Flaxman told reporters Friday.

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