WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will resurrect a Reagan-era rule banning federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, or sharing space with abortion providers.
The Department of Health and Human Services will announce its proposal Friday, a senior White House official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the release.
The policy has been derided as a “gag rule” by abortion rights supporters and medical groups, and it is likely to trigger lawsuits that could keep it from taking effect. However, it’s guaranteed to galvanize activists on both sides of the abortion debate going into the congressional midterm elections.
The announcement comes as President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at the Susan B. Anthony List’s “campaign for life” gala on Tuesday night. The group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion. It says it spent more than $18 million in the 2016 election cycle to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton and promote a “pro-life Senate.”
The Reagan-era rule barred family planning clinics from discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled that it was an appropriate use of executive power. The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule went into effect that required “nondirective” counseling to include a full range of options for women.
According to a Trump administration summary, the new proposal will roll back the Clinton requirement that abortion should be discussed as an option along with prenatal care and adoption.
Known as Title X, the nation’s family-planning program serves about 4 million women a year through clinics, at a cost to taxpayers of about $260 million.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but by law federal family planning funds cannot be used to pay for abortion procedures.
Abortion opponents say a taxpayer-funded family planning program should have no connection to abortion. Doctors’ groups and abortion rights supporters say a ban on counseling women trespasses on the doctor-patient relationship.
“This is an attempt to take away women’s basic rights, period,” said Dawn Laguens, a senior Planned Parenthood executive. She hinted at possible legal action to try to block the Trump administration move, saying, “we will not stand by while our basic health care and rights are stripped away.”
“I cannot imagine a scenario in which public health groups would allow this effort to go unchallenged,” said Jessica Marcella of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents family planning clinics.
Marcella said requiring clinics to be physically separate from facilities in which abortion is provided is impractical, and would disrupt services for women across the country.
But abortion opponents said Trump is merely reaffirming the core mission of the family planning program.
“The new regulations will draw a bright line between abortion centers and family planning programs, just as…federal law requires and the Supreme Court has upheld,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a key voice for religious conservatives.
Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said, “Abortion is not health care or birth control and many women want natural health care choices, rather than hormone-induced changes.”
Abortion opponents allege the federal family planning program in effect cross-subsidizes abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventive care. Hawkins’ group is circulating a petition to urge lawmakers in Congress to support the Trump administration’s proposal.
A Trump administration overview of the proposal says it’s not a “gag rule.” It “will not prohibit counseling for clients about abortion…but neither will it include the current mandate that (clinics) must counsel and refer for abortion,” said the administration document.
Abortion rights supporters suggest that’s a distinction without a difference, since the ban on referring a woman for an abortion could amount to overriding the judgment of medical professionals. They also say women will have no guarantee of getting a full review of all their options.
Planned Parenthood clinics also qualify for Title X grants, but they must keep the family-planning money separate from funds used to pay for abortions. The Republican-led Congress has unsuccessfully tried to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood, and the Trump administration has vowed to religious and social conservatives that it would keep up the effort.
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