U.S. judge blocks 'gag rule' on abortion, calls policy 'madness'

A U.S. federal judge in Oregon Monday issued a ruling to block the so-called “gag rule” that would keep doctors from referring women for abortions under the Title X family planning grant program.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled (PDF) to block the Trump administration’s attempt to prevent federally funded healthcare providers from referring women to abortion clinics, describing the new policy as “madness.”

A pair of lawsuits to block changes to the Title X program were brought by the American Medical Association, the Planned Parenthood Federation, a coalition of 20 states and the District of Columbia.

“Judge McShane’s ruling is a victory for patients, physicians and the open conversations that are essential to improving health outcomes,” said Barbara L. McAneny, M.D., president of the AMA, in a statement.

“In siding with patients and doctors in this case, the judge decisively said the free exchange of medical information is an essential patient right. The AMA will not stand by when the government interferes with the patient-doctor relationship by foisting a gag rule on physicians. Patients trusting their doctors is the foundation of good health, and there must be open communication about healthcare options,” McAneny said.

The ruling by McShane was the second nationwide injunction by a federal judge against the Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule to the Title X program set to take effect Friday, May 3. Last week, Judge Stanley Bastian in the eastern district of Washington also granted a preliminary injunction to block the rule from taking effect.

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

“At worst, it is a ham-fisted approach to health policy that recklessly disregards the health outcomes of women, families, and communities,” McShane wrote in his opinion.

“In the guise of 'program integrity,' the Gag Rule prevents doctors from behaving like informed professionals. It prevents counselors from providing comprehensive counseling. It prevents low-income women from making an informed and independent medical decision. At the heart of this rule is the arrogant assumption that government is better suited to direct the healthcare of women than their medical providers,” he wrote.

As well as the action in the courts, Democrats in Congress are also pushing back with their own attempts to block Title X funding changes, according to The Hill. The program provides family planning and related preventive health services for low-income families and uninsured patients.

Under the Democrats’ draft spending bill, the program would receive $400 million, an increase of $114 million.