Abortion rights advocates march in Texas

Protesters hold up signs as they march outside the Texas State Capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin. (Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

In 'Major Victory' for Abortion Rights, Biden to Reverse Trump-Era Domestic Gag Rule

Sen. Tammy Baldwin called it "a big step in the right direction" but added that "our work to protect reproductive freedom continues."

Supporters of reproductive rights on Monday celebrated the Biden administration's decision to reverse a Trump-era policy barring health clinics that get federal family planning funds from providing referrals for abortions--a policy that critics had called the "domestic gag rule."

"We thank the Biden-Harris administration for swiftly ending the harmful policy and prioritizing access to sexual and reproductive healthcare."
--Alexis McGill Johnson, PPFA

Nearly 1,000 clinics dropped out of the Title X program--which subsidizes contraception, cancer screenings, and other care for low-income patients--in 2019 due to the rule implemented under former President Donald Trump, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The new rule, announced in a Monday statement from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is set to take effect November 8 and follows a series of actions that President Joe Biden and his administration have taken since January to protect and expand reproductive freedom.

"This rule is a step forward for family planning care as it aims to strengthen and restore our nation's Title X program," declared HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

"Our nation's family planning clinics play a critical role in delivering healthcare," he added, "and today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals--based on a patient's needs and direction."

Cheering the move, Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, an Indiana-based board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement that "today, the Biden administration sided with high quality healthcare."

"No matter where patients receive their healthcare, they should have information about the full spectrum of options available to them when they are pregnant, without political interference," Wilkinson said. "The Title X family planning program ensures that no matter how much money you make, people have access to information that is timely, evidence-based, and accurate covering all options."

"The patient-provider relationship is one built in trust," the doctor added. "Today's decision allows healthcare providers to give their patients all of their available options and ensures they are not forced to withhold information their patients need."

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), also applauded the new rule in a statement.

"The end of the Title X gag rule is a major victory for patients, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, and health equity," she said. "Title X is a critical piece of our social safety net that can, and should, ensure that people with low incomes can access essential healthcare without forcing providers to withhold referrals for all of the options available to them."

Planned Parenthood's clinics were among those that were forced out of the program under Trump.

"Due to centuries of systemic inequities that have blocked access to healthcare and economic advancement, Title X disproportionately serves Black and Latino patients, and people living in rural communities," the PPFA leader added. "These communities deserve access to comprehensive, accurate medical information and care. We thank the Biden-Harris administration for swiftly ending the harmful policy and prioritizing access to sexual and reproductive healthcare."

While welcoming Biden's reversal, McGill Johnson also criticized part of the new rule, especially in the context of a recently enacted abortion ban in Texas that Republican lawmakers elsewhere are already working to replicate even as the Biden administration and other defenders of reproductive rights challenge the Lone Star State's controversial Senate Bill 8 in court.

"Given the attacks on abortion in Texas and across the country, it's more important than ever that patients can access their choice of birth control and other health care through Title X--and that it is easily available," she said. "That's why it's disappointing the final rule will allow providers to refuse to counsel or refer patients for abortions due to their own personal beliefs."

Faced with Texas' S.B. 8, potential copycat bills, and the possibility that the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court--which kicked off a new term on Monday--could soon overturn Roe v. Wade, nearly all Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to codify the historic 1973 abortion rights ruling into federal law.

However, the House-approved Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA) is unlikely to reach Biden's desk unless Democrats in the evenly divided U.S. Senate abolish the filibuster to advance that bill (H.R. 3755/S. 1975) and other party priorities.

Over the weekend, thousands of reproductive freedom advocates descended on hundreds of U.S. cities to #RallyforAbortionJustice and defend Roe. At the D.C. event, McGill Johnson said that "no matter where you live, no matter where you are, this moment is dark--it is dark--but that's why we're here."

"It is our job to imagine the light, even when we can't see it," she added. "It is our job to turn pain into purpose. It is our job to turn pain into power."

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