Trump bans abortion providers, referrals from family planning program

Family planning clinics that provide abortions or refer patients for abortions will not be eligible for certain federal funds under a new rule finalized by the Trump administration Friday. 

Under the rule, women's health clinics must be "physically and financially" separate from abortion providers to be eligible for Title X Family Planning grants, which fund organizations providing reproductive health services to low-income women.  


Clinics will also not be allowed to refer women to other facilities for abortions, or promote or support abortion as a method of family planning. 

The long-awaited changes to the Title X program had been pushed by conservatives and anti-abortion groups as a way to partially defund Planned Parenthood, which serves about 40 percent of Title X patients. 

While not all Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions, some do, and those clinics would become ineligible under the rule, which takes effect 60 days after being published in the federal register.

"This rule could defund Planned Parenthood of as much as $60 MILLION of our tax dollars each year!," the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion group, tweeted shortly after the rule was posted. 

"The Protect Life Rule does not cut family planning funding by a single dime, and instead directs tax dollars to entities that provide healthcare to women but do not perform abortions," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the organization, said in a statement.

The Title X Family Planning Program covers reproductive health services for 4 million women every year at independent health clinics, many of which are operated by Planned Parenthood. The program costs about $260 million a year.

The changes would also open the door for faith-based groups to participate in the program, by removing a requirement that clinics refer women for abortions or counsel women on abortion as an option.

“It protects Title X healthcare providers so that they are not required to choose between participating in the program and violating their own consciences by providing abortion counseling and referral,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

The Trump administration says the changes are to ensure federal funds aren’t supporting abortions.

While the use of federal funds for abortions is banned under current law, Title X money that goes to clinics that provide abortions can indirectly support the procedure, the administration argues, freeing up money for those services.

But Democrats and abortion rights groups say the administration’s changes are political and aimed directly at defunding Planned Parenthood.

“Since day one, the Trump-Pence administration has aggressively targeted the health, rights and bodily autonomy of people of color, people with low incomes and women,” said Emily Stewart, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood. “We’re going to fight this rule through every possible avenue.”

Abortion rights groups and Democratic states are already threatening lawsuits.

New York Attorney General Letitia James threatened to "legal action," calling the new rule "dangerous" and "unnecessary."

"These new rules are dangerous & unnecessary. New York will not stand by as this administration puts New Yorkers' & millions of Americans at risk. We will take legal action," James tweeted Friday afternoon.

“We stand ready to take any and all legal action to protect women’s health and rights,” said California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) also said he is considering legal action.

“We are currently reviewing the final rule and evaluating our options,” Inslee said in a statement.

“It is clear the Trump administration has given our state no choice but to explore all possible avenues, including legal options, to ensure all women have access to the family planning and healthcare services they need," he said.

But anti-abortion advocates note that a similar rule issued under the Reagan administration was upheld by the Supreme Court.

“In 1991 Rust v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld very similar regulations, holding that because there is no right to government funding, the government could condition receipt of federal funds on foregoing providing and promoting abortion,” Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion legal group, said in a statement.

Democratic leaders in Congress also blasted the rule, with Energy & Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) calling it a “blatant attack on women’s health.”

“I oppose this rule in the strongest of terms and I will continue to fight to protect and support this essential program,” Pallone said.

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Manchin says no; White House fires back House Democrats find drug companies 'unjustified' in price hikes Your must-read holiday book list from members of Congress MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, called the rule part of the administration’s “ideologically-driven, misguided crusade to prevent Americans from accessing the full range of reproductive health care services.”

Essential Access Health, the administrator for the Title X program in California, said the rules “threaten to devastate” the state’s provider network, resulting in increased wait times and delays for care.

The rule is a win for Trump’s base, which wants to see federal funds severed from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

Updated at 3:29 p.m.