Biden moves to reverse Trump-era regulations barring abortion referrals

The Biden administration is proposing to repeal Trump-era regulations that restricted what clinicians in federally funded family planning clinics can tell patients about abortion.

In 2019, President Donald Trump issued a final rule which revises regulations around the Title X family planning program to block funding to groups that provide abortion referrals. 

In a proposed rule (PDF) released Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Biden administration said the impact of the 2019 regulation "has been devastating to the hundreds of thousands of Title X clients who have lost access to critical family planning and related preventive health services due to service delivery gaps."

Since the Trump rules took effect, Planned Parenthood and many city and state health departments have dropped out of the program, resulting in six states with no Title X providers and six more with dramatically reduced services, Kaiser Health News reported.

RELATED: Trump administration releases Title X rule restricting abortion clinic funding

"As a result of the dramatic decline in Title X services provided, the 2019 Final Rule undermined the mission of the Title X program by helping fewer individuals in planning and spacing births, providing fewer preventive health services, and delivering fewer screenings for STIs," HHS wrote in the proposed rule issued Wednesday.

Critics of the Trump regulation, including the American Medical Association (AMA), said the policy imposed a "gag rule" for reproductive healthcare providers.

Largely seen as a direct attack on Planned Parenthood, the largest reproductive health and abortion provider in the U.S., the 2019 regulation requires providers that receive Title X funding to maintain "physical and financial separation" from an abortion provider.

Organizations that receive federal funding were already prohibited from using those funds to fund abortion services.

Enacted in 1970, the Title X family planning program has played a critical role in ensuring access to family planning and preventive health services including breast and cervical cancer screening and STI/HIV testing to all who want and need them, according to HHS. 

"For five decades, Title X family planning clinics have played a critical role in ensuring access to a broad range of family planning and related preventive health services for millions of low-income or uninsured individuals and others. Over the 50 years of the Title X program, Title X clinics have served more than 190 million clients," HHS wrote in the rule.

RELATED: AMA files lawsuit to block Title X rule restricting abortion clinic funding

HHS is proposing to overturn the Trump-era regulation and readopt the 2000 regulations, with "several modifications needed to strengthen the program and ensure access to equitable, affordable, client-centered, quality family planning services for all clients, especially for low-income clients."

A 30-day public comment period for the proposed rules begins on the afternoon of April 15.

In a statement, AMA President Susan Bailey, M.D., said the organization "strongly applauds" the Biden administration’s proposal to reverse the Title X ‘gag rule’.

The Trump administration rules have "inappropriately interfered with the patient-physician relationship and jeopardized safe access to reproductive care," Bailey said.

"This move brings us one step closer to restoring access to necessary care for millions of low-income and uninsured patients who depend on Title X for family planning services. We are pleased that the Biden administration shares our commitment to undoing this dangerous and discriminatory ‘gag rule,’ and look forward to its elimination through any means necessary to achieve the best outcome for patients and physicians—improving the health of our nation," Bailey said.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said the organization’s affiliates stand ready to rejoin the program when the new rules are made final, Kaiser Health News reported.

“As the nation’s only federal program dedicated to providing affordable birth control and other reproductive health care to people with low incomes, Title X is a critical piece of our social safety net that can, and should, help ensure equitable access to essential health care,” McGill said.