Pro-life advocates have lamented a federal judge’s preliminary injunction against the federal Protect Life Rule, which bars family planning funds for clinics at the same location as abortion providers and for those which refer for abortion.
“Abortion is not healthcare, and that’s how we evaluate these kinds of decisions,” Todd Cooper, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, told CNA.
“Coming from that perspective, it’s troubling,” he said. “I ask myself: why would medical professionals want to refer women to something that would cause untold harm and result in the death of a child?”
Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, agreed.
“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” she said April 24 statement, characterizing abortion as “big business.”
“Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way,” she said. In her view, the new regulation would not cut any money from family planning, and “reflects the original intent of the program: helping people plan their families.”
Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family planning, including contraception and other health screenings, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.
The Protect Life Rule, finalized in February, requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “non-directive counseling” about abortion can still receive funds, but cannot refer for abortion.
Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds due to its intention not to comply with the rule change, which would make it ineligible for funds for its family planning work.
On April 24 U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a preliminary injunction against the new rule’s ban on taxpayer funding for clinics that refer for abortion, calling it a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy,” The Oregonian reports.
Twenty states, including Oregon, and the District of Columbia, have challenged the rule change, joined by Planned Parenthood affiliates and the American Medical Association.
Fourteen other states back the rule change, which had been set to take effect May 3.
The plaintiffs in the case had sought a national injunction, but McShane said he was reluctant to set “national health care” policy. He said he would describe the injunction’s scope in a forthcoming formal written opinion.
The U.S. Justice Department has asked that the injunction apply only to the plaintiffs. There are four similar lawsuits pending in other states.
In his discussion of the case, McShane said the ban on abortion referrals prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals. He ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, and would likely increase abortion numbers due to more unwanted pregnancies, The Oregonian reports.
The rule’s prohibition on federal funding for family planning clinics housed in the same location as abortion providers will also be the subject of an injunction, the judge said.
Attorney Andrew Bernie argued on behalf of the federal government, saying there was no proof of “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs. The administrative record did not show a political motive for the changes.
Further, the changes are in line with the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision Rust v. Sullivan, which upheld federal regulations barring abortion counselling by employees of federally funded family planning facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services holds that the new rules best reflect a Title X section which bars abortion as a family planning method, said Bernie.
McShane, however, said “good health outcomes” are the standard.
“Are these rules going to bring about good health outcomes?” he asked Bernie, according to The Oregonian.
The judge said the government hadn’t provided data to counter medical experts’ claims that the rule’s restrictions on medical professionals regarding abortion referral would result in unwanted pregnancies, ineffective contraceptive use, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
Cooper, of the Oregon Catholic Conference, questioned the judge’s conclusion.
“Abortion is not a good health outcome,” he told CNA, asking for more evidence for the claim that the rule could result in more abortions.
Attorney Alan Schoenfeld, who represented Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, said all Planned Parenthood providers would leave the Title X program because the rules, which they consider a “gag rule,” require unethical health care practice. Planned Parenthood operates about 40 percent of health care clinics in the U.S. If they reduce or close operations, Schoenfeld argued, some communities could not replace the resulting vacuum in health care, which would reduce low-income women’s access to cancer screening and other health services.
Anderson of Oregon Right to Life, however, rejected this argument. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to comply would mean the money would go to federally-qualified healthcare clinics, of which there are over 13,500 across the U.S., she said.
“In Oregon alone, there are 24 (federally-qualified healthcare clinics) for every single Planned Parenthood clinic,” said Anderson. “The idea that there would be a dearth of providers should this rule take affect is an outright lie.”
Enacting the rule, she said, “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families.”
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argued against the rule in court, saying that Title X funds are “a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers.”
After the finalized rule was announced in February, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised the Trump administration for “reaffirming that abortion is not family planning.”
“Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said the archbishop.
Previous regulations, written under President Bill Clinton’s administration, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions. That rule kept some organizations opposed to abortion from applying for grants.
Cooper gave an overview of the pro-life cause in Oregon, which he described as “difficult territory.”
“It’s just a challenge out here, because abortion supporters really want unfettered access to abortion,” he said. “They want to force this on society, they want to force this on women, they even want to force this on medical professionals.”
“For Catholics and many others here in Oregon that do not support abortion for different reasons, this is a battle that we are never going to give up on, regardless of where it goes in the near future. This is something that we’ll be relentless in fighting because of the harm it does to women.”
“Who wants a world where only certain children are welcome?” Cooper asked. “That’s not a world that is a good place to be.”
He pointed to efforts like the Renew Life Oregon coalition, which includes Oregon Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Portland.
“There are a lot of very committed people who are working in the trenches to support life, and ultimately help people recognize and understand the harm that abortion causes society and women in particular, and obviously the children who are being killed in their mothers’ wombs.”
According to Liberty Pike, communications director for Oregon Right to Life, almost 50 percent of abortions in the state are taxpayer-funded.
State law required all insurance plans to cover abortions without any deductible. A Catholic health care provider only secured an exemption after it threatened to leave the state.
“We are already spending an exorbitant amount of tax dollars on abortion,” she said.
Pike argued the new rule would not even force Planned Parenthood out, given it has a choice to give up the Title X funding or to comply with the funding rules.