THE Trump administration is now facing multiple legal battles over its new rule in Title X, the federal family planning grant program, that would, among other things, cut funding to clinics that provide or refer patients to abortion services.
This week, 20 states’ attorneys general — including California AG Xavier Becerra —
separately announced it was suing the administration to block these restrictions which potentially toughens access to public reproductive health care for lower-income patients.
“[The] HHS has exceeded the scope of its statutory authority and acted in a manner that is arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with law ” Becerra wrote in a statement released on Monday, adding that the new HHS guidelines deny “access to critical health care services and prevents doctors from providing comprehensive and accurate information about medical care.”
Last month, the administration formally published the new rule, which primarily includes restricting federal funding to health care facilities that offer abortion services and prohibiting abortion referrals as a family planning option.
It would also reappropriate tens of millions of dollars from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America — which oversees roughly 40 percent of the Title X clinics that offer abortions or referrals — to faith-based health care clinics.
According to the rule announced by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Feb. 22, the new mandate “makes notable improvements designed to increase the number of patients served and improve the quality of their care.”
The HHS guideline that enforces the rule prohibiting abortion referral denotes that, “The final rule does not bar nondirective counseling on abortion, but eliminates the requirement that Title X providers offer abortion counseling and referral. 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.”
Monday’s lawsuit marks the 47th lawsuit that the State of California has filed against the Trump administration.
In addition to the ongoing legal battle to uphold Obamacare, in 2017, California sued the White House over rules that allowed employers to opt out of providing birth control coverage employees on religious and moral grounds.
“We’re ready for this next challenge,” Becerra told reporters in Sacramento on Monday. “We’re ready to stand up for a woman’s right to make her own health-care decision about her own body.”
Title X, which serves about 4 million patients, was established in 1970 as a family-planning and reproductive health care resource for low-income patients and families. Aside from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider for affordable reproductive health care, Title X also oversees and funds thousands of independent clinics across the country.
The fight for reproductive rights in the era of Trump has been a hallmark for the socio-political left, whose primary concern after Nov. 8, 2016 was whether or not the new administration would put forth efforts to tighten abortion laws.
Trump’s then-running mate and current Vice President Mike Pence, a devout Christian, has established a career and public imaged focussed on upholding “pro-life” (anti-abortion) policies and practices. The pro-life agenda has been a hallmark of American conservatism and has been one of the most polarizing socio-political issues of contemporary American policy.
In addition to the so-called “gag” rule and the possibility of defunding clinics that provide abortions, the finalized HHS guideline includes a variety of rules to be enforced, including improving transparency by requiring Title X grantees (i.e. the clinics) to submit more thorough reports to the federal government, increased staff for sexual and domestic abuse victims and ensuring patient confidentiality and improving communication between doctors and patients.
Shortly after the attorneys general suits, medical organizations and reproductive health rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association (AMA), which filed a joint lawsuit on Tuesday, March 5.
“The Trump-Pence administration’s gag rule is unethical, illegal and harmful to public health,” Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote in a statement. “Title X serves women and families with low incomes, the majority of whom are people of color, Hispanic, or Latino and the gag rule will worsen existing racial, socioeconomic and geographical health disparities.”
Following Planned Parenthood and AMA’s joint lawsuit, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which sued the administration on Wednesday, March 6 on behalf of Maine Family Planning.
“Taking the rug out from under them will basically decimate them,” Emily Nestler, senior staff attorney for CRR said in an interview with NPR, explaining that Maine Family Planning falls under the Title X category that provides abortion assistance, and that means the new rules would “really decimate family planning services throughout the entire state, not to mention dramatically cutting back access to abortion.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)