The Trump administration can restrict what clinicians in federally-funded family planning clinics can tell patients about abortion, a federal court ruled Tuesday.
In a split decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) against groups, including the American Medical Association, trying to block enforcement of a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule barring healthcare providers working in clinics that accept Title X funds from giving abortion referrals.
The appeals court vacated orders by lower federal courts in California, Oregon, and Washington blocking the rule’s enforcement, which opponents called a “gag rule” on physicians and other clinicians.
AMA President Patrice A. Harris, M.D., said in a statement that the court’s decision allows the Trump administration to enforce that gag rule on physicians.
“This government overreach and interference demands that physicians violate their ethical obligations—prohibiting open, frank conversations with patients about all their healthcare options—if they want to continue treating patients under the Title X program. It is unconscionable that the government is telling physicians that they can treat this underserved population only if they promise not to discuss or make referrals for all treatment options,” Harris said.
Planned Parenthood withdrew from the Title X federal family planning program last August rather than comply with the rule prohibiting providers from referring women for abortions.
The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, one of the groups that filed legal action to block the rule, said it will continue the fight.
"More than 30 states have lost part or all of their Title X provider network due to this rule, and there are nearly 1,000 fewer sites in which patients can receive Title X services. Today’s decision will ultimately result in more losses to Title X care,” said Clare Coleman, the group’s president and CEO, in a statement.
The court ruling Tuesday will mean the federal government can withhold Title X funding to clinics that perform abortions or refer patients to abortion clinics. Funding allows health providers to provide a range of care to low-income families.