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Oregon leads lawsuit against Trump administration over new abortion 'gag rule'

Under the new rules, any clinic that receives federal funding will be barred from referring a patient for an abortion, even if she requests that information.

Posted: Mar 4, 2019 11:31 AM
Updated: Mar 4, 2019 11:38 AM

SALEM, Ore. — The state of Oregon will lead a national lawsuit against the Trump administration over a new "gag rule" that prevents family planning clinics from referring patients for an abortion, according to a statement released today by the office of Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon's Attorney General.

The "gag rule," as opponents are calling it, applies to family planning programs funded by a federal grant program known as Title X. According to Rosenblum's office, Title X funds access to contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, wellness exams, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and other related health services. As a rule, Title X does not fund abortions.

“What this new rule means is that providers in Oregon who receive Title X funding will have to decide whether they will refuse the funding or ‘cave’ to the requirements of this new rule. Neither is a good or fair option for women and families who often have no other access to medical care,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “I’m proud that Oregon is taking the lead in this important lawsuit. Oregonians have voted time and time again to support women’s reproductive health freedoms.”

Under the new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), providers in any clinic that receives Title X funding will be barred from referring a patient for an abortion — even if the patient directly requests that information — and may prevent care providers from even discussing the topic of abortion with a patient.

Rosenblum's office said that the new rule also mandates that every pregnant patient receive a referral for prenatal care, "regardless of the needs or the wishes of the patient."

"In addition to the 'gag rule,' the new rule will mean that many providers who receive Title X funds will need to change many of their operational systems in order to receive funding," Rosenblum's office said. "For example, health clinics will need to open another location, or create a separate entrance for patients, have separate examination rooms, hire separate personnel to work at separate workstations, maintain a separate phone number and website, and have separate electronic medical systems in order to continue to accept Title X funds."

Oregon’s Title X clinics served 37,012 patients in 2017, according to Rosenblum's office, and in 2018 Oregon received over $3 million in Title X funds. Oregon has received funding for Title X services in Oregon since 1970, and Title X clinics are located in almost every county in Oregon.

The Title X program is administered by the Oregon Health Authority’s Reproductive Health Program. Two-thirds of the patients served at Oregon’s Title X clinics are reportedly "at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, and 95 percent were below 250 percent of the federal poverty level."

Governor Kate Brown has signalled her support for the lawsuit, and New York Attorney General Letitia James has joined Oregon in leading the suit. 21 state Attorneys General have joined the lawsuit in addition to Oregon.

“Everyone deserves the ability make their own decisions about their health care,” said Governor Brown. “This is yet another attack from the Trump Administration on women and families, and it is appalling that the federal government wants to rob individuals of the right to complete medical information and full access to the critical health care services they rely on. I will continue to fight back against this administration as they continue to undermine health care for those who need it most.”

In a summary of the rule change published by HHS, the department had this to say:

"The 2019 regulation places a high priority on preserving the patient/healthcare provider relationship, in order to promote optimal health for every Title X patient. As such, it requires medically necessary referrals, such as referrals for prenatal care. To preserve open communication between the patient and the healthcare provider, the regulation permits, but no longer requires, nondirective pregnancy counseling, including nondirective counseling on abortion. Consistent with the statutory requirement that no funds may be expended where abortion is a method of family planning, this regulation no longer requires, and affirmatively prohibits, referral for abortion as a method of family planning."

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