Reproductive rights groups were outraged when the Trump administration announced plans to cut off family planning funds for healthcare providers that offer abortions. Now they’re headed to court to battle the new rule.
At least three groups have announced plans to sue over the measure, which would effectively ban providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving funds through Title X—a federal program to help low-income Americans access family planning services.
“The new rule will significantly disrupt the Title X program and moves it drastically away from what its central purpose is,,” ACLU senior staff attorney Ruth Harlow told The Daily Beast. “So we’re filing suit to try to keep the Title X program in its role as a really effective safety net and as a very effective healthcare-providing program.”
The new rule would prohibit providers who receive Title X funding from performing or referring patients for abortions, and would require clinics that receive federal funds be physically and financially separate from those that offer the procedure. Critics say this would prevent doctors from dispensing accurate medical advice to patients and defund clinics that provide abortions alongside contraceptives, STD checks and other reproductive health services.
The Department of Health and Human Services posted the final version of the rule online Friday. It will now be submitted to the Federal Register and take effect after 60 days.
The ACLU plans to file suit on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association once the rule is submitted. Harlow said they would also file for a preliminary injunction shortly thereafter. She said she believes the measure violates limits on agency action and contradicts what Congress has said about the program.
“Congress has made very clear that they want any patient that walks into a Title X family planning program to receive full information, if she happens to be pregnant, about what her options are and to receive the information that her medical providers deem appropriate,” Harlow said.
The Center for Reproductive Rights also announced plans Friday to file suit on behalf of Maine Family Planning, the state’s oldest and largest reproductive health care organization. And across the country in Washington, the state attorney general's office announced plans Monday to sue on behalf of more than 90,000 patients who received care through Title X in 2017—more than half of them at or below the federal poverty line.
Title X was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970 to help low-income and uninsured people access family planning services. It currently serves about 4 million women each year, more than two-thirds of whom live at or below the federal poverty level.
The original law states Title X funds can only go to entities where “abortion is not a method of family planning.” Current regulations interpret that to mean the funds cannot be used to pay for abortions, and that abortion services must be kept financially separate from Title X-funded services.
Conservatives, however, have long pushed for the regulations to be updated and broadened, and they cheered the posting of the final rule—which some dubbed the “Protect Life Rule.”
“We thank President Trump for taking decisive action to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “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.”