SF appeals court allows abortion referral ban to go into effect

A federal appeals court in San Francisco Thursday allowed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to go ahead with a new rule that bars federally funded family planning clinics from providing abortion referrals.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of three preliminary injunctions by federal judges in California, Oregon and Washington that blocked the rule established in 2019. The lawsuits were filed by 21 states, including California, and several doctors, clinics and Planned Parenthood branches. The stay will be in effect during the government’s appeal of the injunctions, which could take months.

Planned Parenthood’s national president, Dr. Leana Wen, said the group will make an emergency appeal to the full 9th Circuit to lift the stay. Wen said in a statement, “The Trump-Pence administration’s gag rule is unethical, illegal, and harmful to public health. Planned Parenthood will not let the government censor our doctors and nurses from informing patients where and how they can access health care.”

The regulation was issued by the Health and Human Services Department in connection with a 1970 law, Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which provides financial grants to family planning clinics but forbids use of the funds for abortions. Since 2000, the clinics have been allowed to provide neutral, “non-directive” abortion counseling and referrals upon request.

The new regulation prohibits doctors and other health care providers from giving abortion referrals or encouraging abortions. It requires providers to refer pregnant women to a non-abortion prenatal care provider. Clinics that don’t comply will lose federal funding.

“This decision is a major step toward the Trump Administration being able to ensure that all Title X projects comply with the Title X statute and do not support abortion as a method of family planning.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar

In one of the preliminary injunctions being appealed, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco wrote on April 26 that the rule “will directly compromise providers’ ability to deliver effective care and force them to obstruct and delay patients with pressing medical needs.” The three circuit judges issuing the stay were Edward Leavy, Consuelo Callahan and Carlos Bea. They said the new rule is “a reasonable interpretation” of the 1970 law.

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