Abortion ‘gag rule’ lands in court

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks at an abortion rights rally at Supreme Court in Washington earlier this year. States face a decision on continuing to participate in the federal Title X family planning services program. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

States that do not comply with the so-called federal “gag rule” that prohibit health care providers from referring patients to abortion clinics say they may have to go it alone, without being part of the Title X program. 

But they will also anxiously await the outcome a legal challenge to the Title X restrictions that will be heard at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco by an 11-judge panel.

The Ninth Circuit case attempts to consolidate separate suits brought by Oregon, California, and Washington that challenge the “gag rule.”

Pro-abortion advocates fear the lack of Title X funding could destroy the future of abortion services in many states.

“The very fabric of the safety net has been frayed, potentially beyond repair at this point,” said Jessica Marcella, the vice president of advocacy for the National Family Panning and Reproductive Health Association.

The rule has been dubbed the ‘gag rule’ by opponents because it bars grantees from providing or referring abortions. The rule was allowed to go into effect by a three-judge panel of the appeals court in June. 

Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont pulled out of Title X last month with state officials claiming the rule conflicts with state laws that guarantee access to abortions. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, wants to replace the $4 million his state lost in Title X funding with state dollars. But this may prove difficult, if not impossible. Washington is required to run a balanced budget and raising funding for family planning programs would require either cuts to other programs or increased revenues.

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