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Clinics That Refer Women For Abortions Would Not Get Federal Funds Under New Rule

By Scott Neuman NPR

Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET

The Trump administration is reviving a rule that would deny federal family planning funds to organizations that provide abortions or make abortion referrals.

The rule is similar to one in place during the Reagan administration. The proposal was drafted by the Health and Human Services Department and is under review by the White House budget office.

The proposed regulation would apply to Title X, the federal program that provides at least $260 million annually for contraception, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health services to millions of low-income people, according to the official, who asked not to be named.

The rule change would put Planned Parenthood back in the crosshairs after repeated attempts by congressional Republicans to defund the family planning group, which provides abortions but says the federal money it receives does not go toward paying for the procedures.

Under current law, federal funding for abortions is prohibited in most cases. However, anti-abortion-rights advocates have long made cutting funds to any group providing abortions or referring patients for abortions a high priority.

The new rule would also bar federal funds for any group that refers patients for abortions.

Abortion-rights supporters have described the proposal as a “gag rule” and say it would undermine reproductive health care for low-income patients.

On NPR’s Morning Edition on Friday, Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood, told Steve Inskeep: “I think, really, the chilling thing about what they’re proposing now is it removes the guarantee that women in particular are getting full and accurate information about their health care from their doctor. This is absolutely extraordinary that we would now be gagging doctors and health care providers from giving women their legal information and even referring them for potentially livesaving health care.”

She said the rule change would mean that if a pregnant women with cancer came in, “her health care provider could refuse to tell her that abortion is legal, that it’s even an option.”

In a statement from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the group said it would not “stand by while our basic health rights are stripped away.”

“This is an attempt to take away women’s basic rights, period. Under this rule, people will not get the health care they need. They won’t get birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, or even general women’s health exams,” Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said.

“Everyone has the right to information about their health care — including information about safe, legal abortion, and every woman deserves the best medical care and information, no matter how much money she makes or where she lives. No matter what. They won’t get it under this rule,” she said.

However, anti-abortion-rights groups praised the proposed change. Students for Life of America, which says it has members on more than 1,200 U.S. university and high school campuses, said in a statement:

“These changes are long overdue as abortion is not healthcare or birth control and many women want natural healthcare choices rather than hormone-induced changes,” the group’s president, Kristan Hawkins, said. “The Trump Administration has every right to require that Title X programs focus on healthcare, not abortion, and to keep such programs aimed at helping women make a plan for a family outside of the facilities designed to making sure women don’t have a family at all.”

A similar rule proposed during the Reagan administration was hit by legal challenges from Planned Parenthood and other groups and never fully implemented. It was later rescinded by President Bill Clinton.

Abortion-rights groups are likely to take to the courts again in efforts to stop the latest change, if the proposal goes forward.

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

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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