Political News

Trump Rule Would Bar Some Abortion Advice at Federally Funded Clinics

Posted May 22, 2018 11:58 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s proposal to impose new abortion restrictions on federally funded family planning programs would bar doctors from advising a woman weighing an abortion about where she could receive one.

The proposed rule submitted last week, a copy of which was posted on the Department of Health and Human Services’ website, would bar clinics or programs that receive federal family planning funds from providing abortions or referring women to places that do, imposing what it calls a “bright line” of separation. It takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood and reproductive health organizations like it, which provide a range of women’s health services, including abortions.

Trump hailed the proposal — a top priority of social conservatives who have been among his staunchest supporters — at a gala Tuesday night for the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion organization.

“For decades, American taxpayers have been wrongly forced to subsidize the abortion industry,” Trump said, describing the new policy to sustained applause from the audience of activists and Republican lawmakers.

“I pledged to stand for life, and as president, that’s exactly what I’ve done,” Trump said.

The president’s new policy states that money distributed under Title X — the 1970 statute that created the federal family planning program — must be “physically and financially separate from programs in which abortion is provided or presented as a method of family planning, including programs that refer for abortions and programs that encourage, promote or advocate abortion as a method of family planning.”

The proposal falls short of the domestic gag rule that was proposed under President Ronald Reagan in 1988, which prohibited organizations that received Title X money from even mentioning abortion. But it does do away with a requirement that family planning centers counsel women about abortion and provide referrals for it.

And it strictly limits the circumstances under which a health provider could advise a woman about abortion options, requiring that a patient state she has already decided to terminate her pregnancy before allowing doctors to furnish a list of possible providers.

“A doctor, though not required to do so, would be permitted to provide nondirective counseling on abortion,” the proposed rule says. In that case, it says, a physician could provide a list of health providers, “some (but not all) of which provide abortion in addition to comprehensive prenatal care.”

“Providing such a list would be permitted only in cases where a program client who is currently pregnant clearly states that she has already decided to have an abortion,” the rule says.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights advocates have argued since the proposal surfaced last week that it still constitutes a gag rule because it would stop health care providers from discussing certain things with their patients.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Planned Parenthood called the proposal a “nationwide gag rule” that was “straight out of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,'” the dystopian novel in which women are treated as reproductive slaves. The group criticized language specifying that federally funded family planning organizations no longer must provide every form of birth control, and the omission of an existing requirement that contraceptive methods they furnish be “medically approved.”

“This is one of the largest-scale and most dangerous attacks we’ve seen on women’s rights and reproductive health care in this country,” said Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

At the gala Tuesday night, Trump pledged his continued support for an aggressive anti-abortion agenda, telling the audience that he was committed to what he called “the first right in the Declaration of Independence, called the right to life.”

Critics of the president accused him of preparing to impose a mean-spirited policy that would harm women’s health.

“This gag rule is not only unconscionable, but it undermines medical ethics by allowing health care professionals to withhold accurate and timely medical information from patients,” said Dr. Jenn Conti, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.

But the rule is immensely popular among abortion activists like those at the gala, who demonstrated their appreciation for Trump’s actions by applauding during his nearly 40-minute speech. “When we stand for life, we stand for the true source of America’s greatness — it’s our people. Our people are great,” Trump told the appreciative crowd.

Trump campaigned for president in 2016 as an enthusiastic anti-abortion candidate, actively seeking votes from religious conservatives by trying to convince them that he had “evolved” from his earlier support for abortion rights positions. He has supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, has promised to appoint anti-abortion justices and has supported stripping Planned Parenthood of federal money.

In a town-hall-style meeting during the campaign, Trump said that if abortion were outlawed, women who had them should be punished. His campaign later issued a statement saying that he meant doctors who perform abortions should be punished if abortion were illegal. Later, Trump acknowledged that he had misspoken under intense questioning by Chris Matthews of MSNBC but complained that his answer, however inartful, was unfairly made to be a big news story.

Once in office, Trump embraced a conservative agenda aimed at imposing new and tougher restrictions on abortions. In his first days, the president issued a memorandum that restored the so-called global gag rule, which restricts federal funds from being used by organizations in other countries if they provide abortion counseling or referrals.

Days after his inauguration, Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, making good on a campaign promise to appoint an anti-abortion justice. And in April of last year, Trump signed legislation that allowed state governments to withhold funds for family planning services if an organization also performed abortions, reversing a rule developed by Obama administration officials that would have prevented such actions by states.

In his remarks at the gala, Trump urged the anti-abortion activists to remain engaged in the 2018 campaign so that more Republicans who support their agenda will be elected to the Congress.

“This November, vote for family, vote for love, vote for faith and values, vote for country and vote for life,” Trump said.

He was still reading from his prepared remarks when he told the audience that “your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016.” Then he paused to go off script.

“Although I’m not sure I really believe that, but you know,” he said, prompting laughter. “I don’t know who the hell wrote that line!” he shouted, then added, “But it’s still important, remember.”