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Federal appeals court upholds abortion referral ban at federally funded clinics

Federal appeals court upholds abortion referral ban at federally funded clinics
A federal appeals court has sided with the Trump administration over Planned Parenthood in family planning case. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 24 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Monday upheld a Trump administration revised rule banning federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions.

Seven judges ruled in favor of upholding the 2019 rule with four dissenting on the 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs in the case against Secretary Alex Azar of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services included several states, Planned Parenthood and Essential Access Health.

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HHS issued the revised rule last year banning family planning providers that receive Title X funding from abortion referrals. In response, Planned Parenthood, which says it serves 40 percent of the 4 million Title X patients in the United States, called it a "gag rule" and said in August of last year it has been in the Title X program for decades, but would have to leave the program because of the rule.

Planned Parenthood joined the American Medical Association in March in suing the Trump administration to block the rule, arguing that several aspects of the rule were "arbitrary and capricious," including its "requiring clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning."

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Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in the court opinion that the 2019 rule allows family clinics to mention abortion, but not to refer or encourage it, and that it was a "reasonable interpretation" of federal law and was not "arbitrary and capricious," as plaintiffs had argued.

The opinion also vacated injunctions against the rule imposed by the district courts.

Planned Parenthood responded in a statement that the rule imposes cost prohibitive and unnecessary "physical separation" restrictions on health centers that provide abortion.

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The nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health care with some centers providing abortion noted that Judge Richard Paez' "strongly" dissented.

"In vacating the preliminary injunctions, the majority blesses an executive agency's disregard of the clear limits placed on it by Congress," Paez wrote. "The consequences will be borne by the millions of women who turn to Title X-funded clinics for lifesaving care and the very contraceptive services that have caused rates of unintended pregnancy -- and abortion -- to plummet."

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called for Congress to get involved.

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"Congress must take action to reverse this dangerous rule and restore access to care for millions through Title X," Johnson said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood will never give up on our patients and we will continue to do everything we can to fight this rule."

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Essential Access Health issued its own statement, raising concern about low-income patients in particular.

"This is a devastating decision for the millions of low-income patients who rely on the Title X program for comprehensive, quality sexual and reproductive health care nationwide," Essential Access President and CEO Julie Rabinovitz said in the statement. "We are reviewing the decision and discussing next steps with our legal team and litigation partners."

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