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American Medical Association asks Supreme Court to strike Trump abortion rule

American Medical Association asks Supreme Court to strike Trump abortion rule
© Greg Nash

The American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest doctors’ group, filed a petition to the Supreme Court Thursday asking it to strike down a rule from the Trump administration barring clinics funded by taxpayers from referring women for abortions.

The petition was also filed in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and and Essential Access Health, which administers the Title X family planning program in California. It comes after two seemingly contradictory rulings from two federal appeals courts on the administration’s restriction.

The petition also tees up an abortion battle that could be heard by the Supreme Court, which is expected to have a more conservative 6-3 majority if the Senate, as expected, confirms Amy Coney Barrett to be a justice for the court. President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE nominated Barrett to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid Dozens of legal experts throw weight behind Supreme Court term limit bill MORE, who died in September. 

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The AMA in a statement called Title X, as the federal family planning program is commonly referred to, “a vital public health program.”

“The AMA strongly believes that our nation’s highest court must step in to remove government overreach and interference in the patient-physician relationship. 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,” said AMA President Susan Bailey. 

“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," Bailey continued.

The Trump administration in 2019 finalized a policy that mandates that taxpayer-funded clinics not refer pregnant women for abortions, leading thousands of clinics to leave the Title X program. The development impacted women, mostly women of color, who get birth control and receive routine health care from the clinics, and the AMA said the number of annual patients at the sites affected fell by 21 percent in 2019.

While the Department of Health and Human Services has said it would work to prevent any lapses in coverage, the AMA wrote in its petition that the policy “warps and decimates” Title X.

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The rule has been winding its way through the legal system, with a San Francisco appeals court upholding the regulation and a second appeals court in Virginia ruling in a Maryland case that the policy is invalid. The AMA made the argument in its petition that the conflicting rulings mean that the Trump administration rule is valid across the country except in Maryland.

Republicans have for years advocated for cutting off any connections between federal funds and abortion, and the Title X plan is part of the party’s effort to reduce the money going to Planned Parenthood, still the largest provider of abortions in the country.

The petition also comes as liberals worry that the new court majority could put at risk Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a right to abortions.

“The Trump administration's Title X rule was a lawless attack on this vital public health program, and must be rejected,” said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney at the ACLU. “We call on the Supreme Court to uphold its role as an essential check on unlawful agency actions, hear this vitally important case, and restore the full range of clinical family planning care that millions nationwide have historically relied upon.”