After President Donald Trump's administration announced Monday that it would immediately begin enforcing a ban on abortion referrals at clinics that receive federal tax dollars, outraged reproductive rights advocates warned about the impact on healthcare nationwide and vowed to keep fighting against what they call the domestic gag rule.
"The Title X gag rule is part of a much broader agenda by the Trump administration and its allies to undermine people's reproductive health and rights, and to impose a socially conservative worldview within the U.S. healthcare system."
Trump's Health and Human Services Department notified clinics of the move ahead of a conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. The announcement followed a 7-4 vote Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding an earlier ruling which lifted injunctions that prevented enforcement of the policy.
The administration's rule makes healthcare clinics ineligible for Title X Family Planning Program funding if they provide abortion referrals and requires them to keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions. Though clinic staff can still discuss the procedure with patients, they are not required to do so.
The rule also stipulates that healthcare centers receiving Title X funds cannot be located in the same space as abortion providers, though that provision isn't set to take effect until next year. The decades-old Hyde Amendment, passed annually by Congress, already blocks federal funding for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to a pregnant person's life.
This prohibits #TitleX clinics from referring people to abortion providers IF the patient wants. Providers are not allowed to even counsel patients with medical info. They must also now be in separate facilities from abortion providers. (Funding abortion is already prohibited.) https://t.co/5ICJ3437ay
— Dr. Rebecca Kreitzer (@rebeccakreitzer) July 16, 2019
Services funded by the Title X program, which gives clinics about $260 million in grants annually, mostly serve patients with low incomes and those who face systemic barriers to care, including people of color and uninsured individuals. According to Planned Parenthood, a primary target of the new rule, "more than four million people rely on affordable birth control and reproductive healthcare services that are funded by Title X."
The organization operates clinics across the country, which would be effectively defunded by the gag rule—a longtime goal of the anti-choice movement and Republican politicians. Planned Parenthood Action responded to the administration's enforcement announcement on Twitter late Monday, denouncing the rule as "devastating, illegal, and unethical."
Promising to continue the ongoing legal challenge to the ban, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement that "our doors are still open" and "we will not stop fighting for all those across the country in need of essential care."
BREAKING: Last night the Trump administration notified Title X providers that it will begin enforcing its unethical gag rule IMMEDIATELY—endangering the healthcare of millions and effectively "defunding" Planned Parenthood nationwide. https://t.co/BlNnGT8OrO #ProtectX
— NARAL (@NARAL) July 16, 2019
In a series of tweets Tuesday, the Guttmacher Institute, condemned the rule as "blatantly coercive and a violation of medical ethics and patients' rights," and cautioned that "the consequences could be severe."
"The Title X gag rule is part of a much broader agenda by the Trump administration and its allies to undermine people's reproductive health and rights, and to impose a socially conservative worldview within the U.S. healthcare system," tweeted the research and policy group, which works to advance reproductive health and rights globally.
Clare Coleman, president of the umbrella group National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, also tied the move to the Trump administration's and Republican lawmakers' other recent attacks on healthcare and reproductive rights. As she told The Associated Press, "The administration's actions show its intent is to further an ideological agenda."
Last night, @HHSGov notified Title X grantees that it will begin formally enforcing the final #TitleX rule. This is devastating for our members and for the 4 million people served by the program every year. The @AP reports more. https://t.co/VsCHiWie7p
— NFPRHA (@NFPRHA) July 16, 2019
"Make no mistake, this is not about helping women—it's about preventing women from exercising their constitutional right to choose," Rep. Barabara Lee (D-Calif.) tweeted Tuesday. "Politicians have no place dictating patient care."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was also among those who expressed alarm over the administration's policy. In a Monday night tweet, the 2020 presidential candidate wrote that she stands with Planned Parenthood Action in the fight to overturn the gag rule and highlighted how she would safeguard reproductive rights on a national scale if elected to the White House in 2020.