Trump administration’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood blocked by federal judge

April 25, 2019 GMT

A federal judge on Thursday blocked the Trump administration’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood by denying federal money to health care providers that offer abortion referrals.

U.S. Judge Stanley Bastian of the Eastern District of Washington state became the second Obama appointee this week to impose an injunction against the defunding plan, which was set to take effect May. 3.

On Tuesday, U.S. Judge Michael J. McShane of the District of Oregon imposed a preliminary injunction against the plan in a lawsuit filed by 20 mostly blue states, the District of Columbia, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association.

″[W]e know this is not the end of the road,” Ruth E. Harlow, senior staff attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday in a statement.

The plan takes aim at Title X funds, which mostly pay for health care services for low-income women, and nearly two dozen states have argued its implementation will force the closure of many health care clinics across the country. Plaintiffs seeking an injunction Wednesday in a separate, federal lawsuit in Maine said the new regulation would close 85% of the state’s abortion clinics.

The Title X Family Planning Program, enacted in 1970, provides funds for everything from cancer screenings to birth control, but it bars funding for abortions. In 2017, the program provided $286.5 million in competitive grants to states, local public health companies, family-planing centers and community health nonprofits. Nearly 90% of the funds ended up providing health care for women.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II announced in February that Title X grant recipients cannot be tied to abortion clinics.

The multistate challenge to the administration’s Title X ruling is the 71st such legal maneuver by Democratic state attorneys general against President Trump, according to Paul Nolette, a Marquette University political science professor.

For comparison, Mr. Nolette pointed out that President Barack Obama faced 62 multistate challenges and President George W. Bush 45 during their respective eight-year terms. Mr. Trump has been in office less than 2 years.

“There’s a lot of upside and not much downside [to filing this lawsuit],” Mr. Nolette said. “At the very least, they’ve won some sort of injunction, maybe a national injunction, and that’ll frustrate the implementation of [the rule] at least for several months and [possibly] the rest of Trump’s first term.”

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson declined to comment, saying “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Federal attorneys have defended the HHS ruling in court hearings, saying the department has wide latitude to prohibit funds from sponsoring abortion under a 1988 Supreme Court decision.

States and family-planning groups have argued the new rule violates due process, amounts to a “gag rule” on abortion services and suppresses their First Amendment rights.

In the final rule Mr. Azar announced, the department said clinics must be physically separate from abortion providers. It also prohibited providers from offering patients “nondirective counseling” on all legal options related to prenatal care, including abortion.