Appeals Court Lets Trump Administration Partly Defund Abortion Providers as Lawsuits Continue

June 20, 2019 Updated: June 20, 2019

A federal appeals court on June 20 granted the Trump administration’s request to lift nationwide injunctions ordered by lower courts in Washington and Oregon that prevented the executive branch from blocking federal family planning funds from abortion providers.

The taxpayer money in question is part of the decades-old Title X program meant for low-income Americans. Under the original designation, the funds couldn’t be used for abortion. The administration of President Bill Clinton lifted the abortion restriction. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion corporation, receives approximately a quarter of the total Title X taxpayer funds.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a rule on Feb. 22 that “prohibits the use of Title X funds to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.” More than 20 states and nongovernmental organizations challenged the rule in cases filed in Oregon, Washington, and California. Judges in Oregon and Washington blocked the rules from taking effect nationwide. The judge in California issued a statewide injunction.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco called the rules a “reasonable” interpretation of a federal law that prohibits taxpayer-funded health clinics from advocating, encouraging, or promoting abortion.

The panel overturned all three injunctions while the separate cases proceed. According to Politico, all three judges were appointed by Republican presidents.

“Absent a stay, HHS will be forced to allow taxpayer dollars to be spent in a manner that it has concluded violates the law, as well as the Government’s important policy interest in ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not go to fund or subsidize abortions.”

The Justice Department is also appealing a court order blocking the rules in Maryland.

The panel said the lower courts appeared to have gotten the rulings wrong, and it granted a stay of those orders requested by the Justice Department. That allows the rules to take effect while the government appeals the lower court rulings.

“We are pleased that the 9th Circuit has cleared the way for this important executive branch action to take effect while our appeals are pending,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in an emailed statement. “The Department of Justice’s position is supported by long-standing Supreme Court precedent and we are confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”

The new rules ban taxpayer-funded clinics from making abortion referrals and prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood, which stands to lose up to $60 million in taxpayer funding, called the ruling “devastating.” The $60 million represents less than 4 percent of the corporation’s revenue, which, in fiscal 2018, reached close to $1.7 billion.

“The Trump–Pence administration’s gag rule is unethical, illegal, and harmful to public health,” Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

According to a June poll by Marist, fewer than one in five Americans support abortion during any term of the pregnancy. The same poll found that three in four Americans support the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion. Despite the overwhelming support, a strong majority told the pollster they back adding restrictions to the ruling.

In addition to the Title X funds, Planned Parenthood receives approximately $500 million annually in taxpayer funds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 45 million medical and surgical abortions have been performed in the United States since 1970. In addition, more than 610 million “chemical” abortions occurred in the United States between 1965 and 2009, according to the American Life League.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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