Apr 14, 2021 - Health

Biden administration moves to reverse Trump-era rule on abortion referrals

Abortion rights and anti-abortion rights activists protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2020.

Abortion rights and anti-abortion rights activists protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2020. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Wednesday moved to reverse a Trump-era rule banning federally funded health care providers from referring women for abortions.

Why it matters: The rule, which took effect in 2019, prompted Planned Parenthood and other health care providers to withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, whose grantees provide birth control and other services to mainly low-income individuals.

  • The Trump-era rule also required clinics to financially and physically separate from facilities that provide abortions.

Details: The proposed regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services would reinstate Title X grant eligibility to clinics that provide abortions or abortion referrals, if they use private funds for the procedures. By law, federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortions, except in certain cases.

  • HHS estimated that Title X grantees served about 1.5 million fewer clients in 2020 due to the Trump rule.
  • The agency also estimated that the rule may have led to more than 180,000 unintended pregnancies.

What they're saying: The Trump-era rules "have undermined the public health of the population the program is meant to serve," HHS said in a statement.

  • "Advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality, is a priority for the Department," it added.

Planned Parenthood, which withdrew from the Title X program in Aug. 2019, applauded the Biden administration for the proposed rule change and "beginning to restore access to affordable, essential reproductive health care."

  • "Due to centuries of systemic racism and injustice, the rule has disproportionately harmed people of color and people with low incomes, all at a time when access to affordable preventive health care has never been more critical," said Planned Parenthood president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect politicians who oppose abortions, said that the Biden administration's "latest push to bail out the abortion industry proves there is no rule they won’t rewrite or simply ignore to get their way," per AP.

The big picture: The proposed rule would follow through on President Biden’s "campaign promise to reverse his predecessor’s family planning policy, which was branded a 'gag rule' by women’s groups and decried by medical associations as violating the doctor-patient relationship," AP noted.

  • Wednesday's proposed rule change comes a day after the Food and Drug Administration announced that patients seeking abortion pills will not be required to obtain the drug from hospitals or medical facilities in person while the coronavirus pandemic persists.
  • Biden in January rescinded the "global gag rule," a policy that bans international organizations that receive U.S. funding from providing abortion services or offering information about abortion.
  • Yes, but: The moves come as Republican-controlled legislatures across the country push for more abortion restrictions.

What to watch: The rule will now go through a 30-day public comment period before HHS makes it final decision.

  • Biden "administration officials believe that moving carefully and deliberately will increase the odds of the proposed changes being upheld in court," AP noted.
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