Biden lifts ban on referral for abortion at family planning clinics: NPR
José Luis Magana / AP
WASHINGTON – Biden administration rolled back ban on abortion by family planning clinics, lifting Trump-era restriction as political and legal battles over abortion intensify from Texas to Supreme Court the United States.
The Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that its new regulations would restore the federal family planning program to the way it was under the Obama administration, when clinics could refer women seeking abortions to a provider. The aim is to “strengthen and restore” services, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said.
Groups representing the clinics said they hoped the Biden administration’s action would lead some 1,300 local facilities that left to protest Trump’s return policies, helping to stabilize a long-standing program shaken by the coronavirus pandemic in addition to ideological battles.
“I’ve heard that almost all over the country people have decided that the conditions will be right for them to return to the program,” said Clare Coleman, chair of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association coordinating group, in an interview. “My feeling is that people are waiting for the rule.”
Planned Parenthood, the largest service provider, said on Twitter that its health centers were eager to return. But the group criticized part of the Biden administration rule that allows individual clinicians who oppose abortion not to provide referrals. The administration said it was “in accordance with applicable federal law”.
Known as Title X, the taxpayer-funded program makes more than $ 250 million a year available to clinics to provide contraceptive and basic health care services primarily to low-income women, many of whom come from minority communities. Under former President Donald Trump, clinics were prohibited from referring patients for abortions, leading to a massive exit from service providers affiliated with Planned Parenthood, as well as several states and other independent organizations.
Women’s groups have called the Trump policy a “gag rule” and medical organizations have called it a violation of the clinician-patient relationship.
But religious and social conservatives have praised the policy for enforcing a strict separation between family planning services and abortion. Under federal law, clinics cannot use federal family planning money to pay for abortions. However, abortion opponents argue that funding birth control for organizations like Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions, amounts to an indirect subsidy.
On Monday, the National Right to Life Committee criticized the Biden administration for “supplementing the abortion industry with taxpayer funds.”
Title X family planning clinics served about 3.9 million clients in 2018, but the HHS estimates that number fell nearly 40% after Trump’s policy. The upheaval may have led to more than 180,000 unwanted pregnancies, the agency said. In total, more than a quarter of clinics have left the program. Although several states have mobilized with their own unconditional funding, women in some parts of the country still do not have access to it.
Combined with service disruptions due to COVID-19 shutdowns, “this has been just a huge double blow to the system,” Coleman said.
Biden campaigned on a promise to reverse restrictions on family planning clinics, but abortion was not a central issue in the 2020 presidential race. It could become one in the 2022 midterm election. to determine who controls Congress.
Restrictive laws in the states of Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere have sparked a mobilization of abortion rights supporters who fear that a conservative-leaning Supreme Court will overturn the Roe v. Wade of 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide. Hundreds of abortion-themed protests took place across the country on Saturday, including one that brought thousands of abortion rights advocates to the courtroom steps.
The Supreme Court allowed Texas law to go into effect, but did not rule on the substantive legal issues behind the law, which prohibits most abortions in the state. Judges will hear arguments Dec. 1 over Mississippi law, which prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The court is now leaning steadfastly to the right after Trump appointed three Tory judges. Twelve states have passed laws that would ban abortion altogether if Roe were quashed.
“Given the attacks on abortion in Texas and across the country, it is more important than ever that patients can access their choice of contraception and other health care through Title X,” said the president of Planned Parenthood, Alexis McGill Johnson, in a statement.
The new abortion referral policy for family planning clinics goes into effect on November 8.