The Obama administration on Wednesday issued a final rule that prohibits states from cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood chapters and other clinics that provide abortions, a measure that will go into effect before President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration and will require a time-consuming effort to revoke.
The rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requires that state and local governments give out federal funds to qualified healthcare providers that offer family planning and preventive services, regardless of whether the providers also perform abortions. (The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal money from directly funding abortions.)
Dr. Karen Scott, chief medical officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, said in a statement Wednesday, "This rule will strengthen access to essential services like cancer screenings and contraception for some of the most vulnerable patients in this country. Public comments showed overwhelming support for finalizing the rule, which clarifies that all organizations able to provide these services should be eligible to compete for funds."
The funds—which come from the federal Title X family planning program that provides money to clinics offering birth control, pregnancy and fertility services, cancer and sexually transmitted infection screenings, and other services—may not be revoked for any reason other than those related to a clinic's "ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner," the rule states.
"This rule protects birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, and other health care for millions of people."
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
It comes as Republican leaders around the country, emboldened by Trump's rise to power, approve new laws that crack down on reproductive rights—such as Ohio's 20-week abortion ban, signed just Tuesday by anti-choice Governor John Kasich. Planned Parenthood has also been the target of numerous defunding campaigns, which prompted HHS to begin working on the measure in September.
On the campaign trail, Trump said he believes women who have abortions, or doctors who provide them, should receive "some form of punishment." He has also staffed his cabinet with outspoken abortion foes, nominating Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who healthcare advocates say has an abysmal record on women's rights, as HHS Secretary. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, while serving as Indiana governor, also signed some of the nation's strictest abortion laws.
With support from the Republican-majority Congress, Trump has indicated he would reverse many of President Barack Obama's signature rules, particularly 11th-hour decisions, which Wednesday's funding order would likely fall under. However, the HHS said the measure would require a drawn out process to undo—either with a new rule-making process or with a joint resolution of disapproval from the House and Senate, according to the New York Times.
"This rule protects birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, and other health care for millions of people," Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards said Wednesday. "Yet this fight is not over. We are deeply concerned about the future of health care access in this country with extremists like Mike Pence and Tom Price at the helm."
"We will not back down, and we will continue to fight for our patients' access to care. Every person deserves the right to control their own bodies, their own health, and their own well-being without politicians getting in the way," Richards said.
Title X was designed to serve low-income and uninsured people. Planned Parenthood provides care for about 1.5 million patients through the program, roughly one-third of all the people that Title X serves.