Prompted by a Washington attorney general lawsuit, a federal judge on Thursday blocked the Trump administration’s gag rule that would have barred providers, such as Planned Parenthood, from giving pregnant women information about family planning services, including abortions.
Attorneys for the state and federal government argued for three hours Thursday in Yakima before U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian sided with the state and approved a preliminary injunction that will prevent the Trump administration rule from taking effect next week.
“This is a victory for patients in Washington and throughout our country,” Karl Eastlund, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said in a news release. “Because of this, our patients can still access the life-saving health care, like cancer screenings and STI treatments, they need through Title X, our nation’s only program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care.”
The suit filed last month by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and a similar suit filed by the ACLU in Spokane, both sought to halt actions by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who adopted the rule that was scheduled to take effect May 3. The new rule would prevent family planning clinics that receive federal funding under a program called Title X from referring women to abortion clinics.
Ferguson announced Feb. 25 that his office would file the suit. He repeatedly has sued the Trump administration regarding other matters. He previously said that 11 of 20 Eastern Washington counties would be left without Title X providers under the new so-called gag rule.
Congress enacted Title X in 1970 to improve access to family planning services for low-income women needing effective contraception and reproductive health care, the suit states. Congress then delegated authority to Health and Human Services to award the public grants to public and nonprofit agencies to provide those services.
Since 1971, the state of Washington competed for those funds and has obtained several Title X grants that help fund about 85 clinics to serve residents in 32 of the state’s 39 counties.
“In 2017 alone, it enabled over 18,000 women to avoid unintended pregnancies and eliminated the need for over 6,000 abortions,” attorneys wrote in the state suit, “and it saved the state over $113 million in health care costs.”
With the injunction in place, those grants will now be available to provide family planning services to 98,000 Washingtonians in 2019, according to the suit filed by Assistant Attorneys General Jeffrey Sprung, Kristin Beneski and Paul Crisalli.
The suit also claims that Azar’s policy violates the Affordable Care Act, which protects providers and patients from government interference. It would also run afoul of a federal law that requires doctors to provide information about abortion and prenatal care to patients in an unbiased manner, it claims.
Azar’s rule “reverses longstanding policies and agency interpretations … with no rational explanation or evidentiary support,” the suit states. Instead, the rule “adds unsupported, illogical, and counterproductive new requirements, while ignoring contrary record evidence and failing to consider the grave public health harms the new requirements cause.”
The suit also claims the rule would be unconstitutional because it links funding to the relinquishment of rights to free expression and association, violates principles of federalism and is overly vague.
“Title X in our affiliate has a racially and ethnically diverse patient base, serves many people who are LGBTQ, and is vital for people who live in rural areas. If the rule was enacted, many people would have nowhere to go for health care,” Eastlund said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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