The Trump administration’s plan to ban federally funded family planning clinics from giving abortion referrals will be allowed to go into effect nationwide, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The ruling means the administration can implement a rule issued earlier this year that bans abortion providers from participating in the Title X family planning program, removes a requirement that clinics provide abortion counseling, and bars providers from referring women for abortions.
The rule was supposed to take effect May 3, but three lower courts issued injunctions, each of which the administration appealed.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday that the administration can implement the changes while it challenges the injunctions.
“Absent a stay, HHS will be forced to allow taxpayer dollars to be spent in a manner that it has concluded violates the law,” states the ruling, written by a panel of three judges who were appointed by Republican presidents.
Title X grants fund clinics offering contraceptive services to low-income women and men across the country.
It’s not clear when the changes will take effect. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not respond to a request for comment.
“We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit has cleared the way for this important executive branch action to take effect while our appeals are pending," Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement.
Health Secretary Alex Azar praised the ruling, saying in a statement, “We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit has recognized that there is no need to hold up the new family planning rules that enforce laws on the books and revert substantially to rules that the Supreme Court upheld decades ago."
"We are also pleased that the Ninth Circuit agreed that the three preliminary injunctions against the new rules, including two nationwide injunctions, were inappropriate," he added. "This decision is a major step toward the Trump Administration being able to ensure that all Title X projects comply with the Title X statute and do not support abortion as a method of family planning.”
The ruling is a major blow to Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of Title X patients and has vowed to leave the program if the bans go into effect. Planned Parenthood, California, and several Democratic states all filed lawsuits against the rule earlier this year.
“The news out of the 9th Circuit this morning is devastating for the millions of people who rely on Title X health centers for cancer screenings, HIV tests, affordable birth control and other critical primary and preventive care," Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said in a statement Thursday.
Planned Parenthood receives about $60 million a year in Title X funding, but said Thursday it has a "limited emergency fund" that will allow affiliates to continue care for patients while it seeks emergency relief from the ninth circuit.
Other providers will also have to decide if they want to follow the new restrictions and continue participating in the program, or look for funding elsewhere. Providers warned they might have to cut services or staff if the changes went into effect.
The administration awarded its latest round of grants in March, with seven Planned Parenthood affiliates receiving funds.
The Trump administration's changes also require a physical and financial separation between Title X services and abortions, but providers would have until March 2020 to comply.
This would primarily effect Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that also provide abortions, although federal funds are not allowed to cover the procedure.
Updated: 6:36 p.m.