WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration on Monday overturned the ban on abortion by family planning clinics, lifting a Trump-era restriction as political and legal battles over abortion intensify in Texas to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Department of Health and Human Services said its new regulations would restore the federal family planning program to the way it was under the Obama administration, when clinics could refer women seeking abortions to a provider.
Groups representing the clinics have said they hope the Biden administration’s action will lead hundreds of service providers who left to protest Trump’s policies to return, helping to stabilize a long-standing agenda that has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic in addition to ideological battles.
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Known as Title X, the taxpayer-funded program makes more than $ 250 million a year available to clinics to provide basic contraceptive and health care services primarily to low-income women. Under former President Donald Trump, clinics were prohibited from referring patients for abortions, leading to a massive exit from service providers affiliated with Planned Parenthood, as well as several states and other independent organizations.
Women’s groups have called the Trump policy a “gag rule” and medical organizations have called it a violation of the clinician-patient relationship. But religious and social conservatives have praised the policy for enforcing a strict separation between family planning services and abortion. Under federal law, clinics could not use federal money to pay for abortions.
In 2018, family planning clinics served around 3.9 million clients, but the HHS estimates that number fell by nearly 40% after the Trump policy. The upheaval may have led to more than 180,000 unwanted pregnancies, the agency said.
Biden campaigned on a promise to reverse restrictions on family planning clinics, but abortion was not a central issue in the 2020 presidential race. It could become one in the 2022 midterm election. to determine who controls Congress.
Restrictive laws in the states of Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere have sparked a mobilization of abortion rights supporters who fear that a conservative-leaning Supreme Court will overturn the Roe v. Wade of 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide. Hundreds of abortion-themed protests took place across the country on Saturday, including one that brought thousands of abortion rights advocates to the courtroom steps.
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The Supreme Court allowed Texas law to go into effect, but did not rule on the substantive legal issues behind the law, which prohibits most abortions in the state. Judges will hear arguments Dec. 1 over Mississippi law, which prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The court is now leaning steadfastly to the right after Trump appointed three Tory judges. Twelve states have passed laws that would ban abortion altogether if Roe were quashed.
The new abortion referral policy for family planning clinics goes into effect on November 8.