Appeals court rules in favor of Trump family planning rule

The controversial rule led numerous Democratic-led states and family planning organizations to drop out of the program in opposition

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks at a Planned Parenthood Federation of America rally in Upper Senate Park. The group and other organizations dropped out of a federal program after the Trump administration changed a rule blocking groups that provide or refer for abortions from receiving federal family planning grant money. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks at a Planned Parenthood Federation of America rally in Upper Senate Park. The group and other organizations dropped out of a federal program after the Trump administration changed a rule blocking groups that provide or refer for abortions from receiving federal family planning grant money. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 24, 2020 at 4:10pm

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a Trump administration rule blocking groups that provide or refer for abortions from receiving federal family planning grant money.

The controversial rule has led to numerous Democratic-led states and family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood from dropping out of the program in opposition to the changes.

[These two House Democrats oppose abortion rights. It could cost them their seats]

The rule, which prevents organizations that provide or refer for abortions from winning federal funds under the program known as Title X, was finalized last year. This led to a flurry of lawsuits from states, health providers, and advocacy groups, many of which were consolidated.

Most of the rule took effect in July after a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a stay lifting three preliminary injunctions that had blocked the rule. But a portion, which prevents Title X grantees from locating in the same facilities as abortion providers, had a delayed start date and now will take effect March 4.

The 11-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday that the rule should remain in effect, citing precedent under a 1991 Supreme Court case, Rust v. Sullivan, involving a similar rule — though that rule never ended up going into effect.

“The Final Rule is not arbitrary and capricious because HHS properly examined the relevant considerations and gave reasonable explanations,” reads Monday’s decision by Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. “As in Rust, the Final Rule’s restrictions on funding certain activities do not create unreasonable barriers, impede access to health services, restrict communications, or otherwise involve ‘denying a benefit to anyone.’”

Judge Richard A. Paez, in his dissent joined by three other judges, argued the decision would reduce access to care.

“In vacating the preliminary injunctions, the majority blesses an executive agency’s disregard of the clear limits placed on it by Congress,” they 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.”

In mid-February, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the regulation could not be enforced in that state, calling the Trump policy "objectively unreasonable."

It is expected that the plaintiffs who want the Trump administration rule to be struck down will appeal Monday’s appellate decision to the Supreme Court.

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