Sep 3, 2020 - Health

Federal court blocks Trump administration's abortion "gag rule" in Maryland

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday blocked the enforcement of the Trump administration's rules that prohibit taxpayer-funded family planning clinics under the Title X program in Maryland from providing or making abortion referrals.

Why it matters: Thursday's decision in the Virginia-based federal court is at odds with a ruling in the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the rules and allowed them to take effect. The division means the Supreme Court may be more likely to take up the issue.

What they're saying: The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Trump administration "failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country," and "arbitrarily estimated the cost" to clinics in implementing the rules.

Context: Title X is a $286 million federal family planning program that primarily serves low-income individuals.

  • Last year, Planned Parenthood and some states withdrew from the program to avoid complying with the Trump administration's rule changes.
  • Abortion rights supporters have referred to the changes as a "gag rule," saying the orders hurt the relationship between women and their doctors, who have to limit the information they can provide. They also say the rules would force some abortion providers to shut down or undergo expensive remodels, hurting access to reproductive health services broadly.
  • Abortion rights opponents have long argued that the Title X program indirectly subsidizes abortion services. Providers were already barred from using federal funds for abortion services.

Of note: Thursday's decision, which involved a lawsuit by Baltimore's mayor and city council, only applies to the state of Maryland.

  • "Today’s ruling will continue to prevent this terrible rule from further harming family planning providers and their patients across the state of Maryland. Unfortunately, the court did not take the opportunity to bring the desperately needed relief to the nationwide family planning provider network that is appropriate under and required by federal law," Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement.

Go deeper: Read the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling.

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