Biden administration reverses Trump abortion referral ban for family planning clinics

The Biden administration on Monday rescinded former President Trump’s rule banning family planning clinics from providing abortion referrals to patients, as debates over abortion have taken center stage.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its last regulation to finalize the reversal of the Trump-era rule designed to prevent clinics from receiving Title X federal funding if they refer patients to abortion providers. 

Biden’s rule, which returns the Title X program to how it functioned between 2000 and 2019, will take effect on Nov. 8.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement that the rule is “a step forward for family planning care.”

“Our nation’s family planning clinics play a critical role in delivering health care, and today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals — based on a patient’s needs and direction,” he said.

The half-century-old Title X program supports clinics caring for mostly low-income populations, including infertility treatment, contraceptive education and counseling, and breast and cervical cancer screenings.

Title X has always prohibited direct funding from going to abortion care. But with the Trump administration’s regulation, these clinics also could not refer patients for abortions, in what critics and reproductive rights groups called a “gag rule.” 

About a quarter of clinics that received Title X funding left the program in response to the Trump-era rule, according to the Guttmacher Institute, costing them a loss in federal funding. Planned Parenthood, which withdrew from the program, previously served about 40 percent of Title X patients.

Supporters of the stricter code applauded it as way to “defund” Planned Parenthood, asserting that any money to abortion providers indirectly promoted the controversial procedure. 

Biden committed in his first weeks in office to take action to improve accessibility to women’s health care and specifically criticized the Trump-era regulation for Title X as putting women’s health “at risk.” Biden’s HHS officially proposed the new rule in April. 

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, designated the termination of the “gag rule” as a “major victory” but said it’s “disappointing” that the policy allows for Title X providers to decline to refer patients for abortions.

“We thank the Biden-Harris administration for swiftly ending the harmful policy and prioritizing access to sexual and reproductive health care,” she said in a statement.

“Given the attacks on abortion in Texas and across the country, it’s more important than ever that patients can access their choice of birth control and other health care through Title X — and that it is easily available,” she added. “That’s why it’s disappointing the final rule will allow providers to refuse to counsel or refer patients for abortions due to their own personal beliefs.”

The updated rule comes as attention toward abortion has grown as Texas implemented a new law last month allowing private citizens to sue anyone suspected of aiding or abetting in the procedure. The Supreme Court narrowly declined to block the law from going into effect, sparking concerns among reproductive rights advocates about abortion access in Texas and potential copy-cat laws in other states. 

The Supreme Court is also slated to hear arguments on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in December in a case that poses a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Updated at 6:03 p.m.

Tags Abortion Department of Health and Human Services Donald Trump family planning Planned Parenthood Title X Xavier Becerra

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