The Biden administration on Monday rolled back a Trump-era rule that bans clinics that receive federal family planning funding from referring women for abortions.
Beginning Nov. 8, clinics receiving federal funds will be allowed to refer pregnant women for abortions. It revokes former President Donald Trump’s February 2019 regulation that required organizations that perform abortions and make referrals do so in clinics that don’t receive Title X federal funds. Title X is a half-century old federal family planning program that offers around $286 million in grants each year for clinics serving primarily low-income individuals.
“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,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement of the updated rule, adding that it is “a step forward for family planning care.”
HHS originally proposed the regulation change in April, but it was required to undergo a notice-and-comment period and additional review before the rule could be finalized.
A federal appeals court in California in 2019 ruled in favor of the Trump administration and its expressed action to “ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions,” despite legal challenges from more than 20 states.
Upon taking office in January, President Joe Biden criticized his predecessor’s rule, saying in a memo that it “puts women’s health at risk by making it harder for women to receive complete medical information.”
The Biden administration estimated that annually, the program served about 1.5 million fewer women as a result of his predecessor’s regulation. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about one in four clinics that previously operated on Title X funds closed in 2019 in response to the Trump-era policy, reported The Washington Post.
Planned Parenthood’s acting president at the time called it a “unethical rule that will limit what providers can tell our patients,” although the Trump administration argued its rules did not include “the so-called ‘gag rule’ on counseling about abortion that was part of the Reagan Administration’s Title X rule.” According to The Post, affiliates of the organization serve roughly four in 10 patients funded by Title X.
“The end of the Title X gag rule is a major victory,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement on Monday. “Title X is a critical piece of our social safety net that can, and should, ensure that people with low incomes can access essential health care without forcing providers to withhold referrals for all of the options available to them.”
“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,” Johnson added.
She said it was “disappointing” that the government didn’t rule against contentious objections, allowing for doctors to refuse to counsel or refer patients for abortions procedures according to their religious or personal convictions.
Connor Semelsberger, a director of federal affairs at the Family Research Council, told The Post that “it comes as no surprise” that the Biden administration “moved at lightning speed to … send millions of taxpayer dollars to America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood.”