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Appeals court allows Title X restrictions to take effect


 

The federal government may go forward with its plan to restrict Title X funding from clinics that provide abortion counseling or that refer patients for abortion services under a June 20 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The panel ruled that the Trump administration’s funding restrictions were a reasonable interpretation of the federal Title X statute and that the administration is likely to prevail in its argument that lower courts erroneously halted the rules from taking effect. The ruling means the restrictions can take effect in every state except for Maryland, which passed a 2019 measure approving the use of state funds to replace federal Title X money if the new rule is enacted.

Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services, said agency officials were pleased the 9th Circuit recognized there was no need to hold up the new family planning rules that simply enforce laws already on the books.

“We are also pleased that the [9th] Circuit agreed that the three preliminary injunctions against the new rules, including two nationwide injunctions, were inappropriate,” Mr. Azar said in the statement. “This decision is a major step toward the Trump administration being able to ensure that all Title X projects comply with the Title X statute and do not support abortion as a method of family planning.”

Leana Wen, MD, president for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America called the court ruling “devastating” for the millions of patients who rely on Title X health centers for cancer screenings, HIV tests, affordable birth control, and other critical primary and preventive care.

“We will be immediately seeking emergency relief from the [U.S.] Court of Appeals,” Dr. Wen said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood will not let the government censor our doctors and nurses from informing patients where and how they can access health care. We will continue to fight the Trump administration in the courts and alongside champions in Congress to protect everyone’s fundamental right to health care.”

The changes to the Title X program – originally scheduled to take effect May 3 – make health clinics ineligible for Title X funding if they offer, promote, or support abortion as a method of family planning. Title X grants generally go to health centers that provide reproductive health care – such as STD testing, cancer screenings, and contraception – to low-income families. Under the rule, the government would withdraw financial assistance to clinics if they allow counseling or referrals associated with abortion, regardless of whether the money is used for other health care services.

More than 20 states and several abortion rights organizations sued over the rules in four separate states. District judges in Oregon, Washington, and California temporarily blocked the rules from taking effect. The 9th Circuit ruling overturns these injunctions.

The American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other groups have voiced their opposition to the Title X restrictions.

In a joint court brief, the medical societies wrote that the Trump administration’s limitations to the Title X program will create cultural, geographic, and financial barriers to care; erode the physician-patient relationship; and cause extreme, immediate, and irreparable harm to millions of patients.

agallegos@mdedge.com

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