Health & Medicine

California AG seeks injunction against Trump’s ‘gag rule’ limiting abortion referrals

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked a federal judge on Friday for a preliminary injunction that will prevent the Trump administration from enacting a new rule that would prevent doctors at federally funded family planning clinics from referring patients for abortions.

A nationwide operator of family planning clinics also sought to stave off implementation of the rule, which is set to take effect in about 40 days. The rule contains regulations that also would deprive Planned Parenthood of $60 million in federal grants from the Title X family planning program if it does not radically change its operations. Instead, the funding would go to faith-based clinics.

“A woman’s healthcare decisions are between her and her doctor – period,” Becerra stated in a news release. “This reckless and illegal rule is a dangerous political ploy to sabotage women’s reproductive health care. California will not stand for this – we will continue to do what’s necessary to fight for women’s rights and access to care.”

The Catholic Association has said that federal dollars are intended for preventive family planning services, not abortion, and the Trump administration rule merely makes it clear that abortion is not an appropriate method of family planning.

California and a coalition of 20 states filed lawsuits March 4 challenging the Trump administration rule that would have a big impact on millions of low-income women who get care ranging from cancer screenings to birth control at the clinics. While California filed its suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the state coalition sued in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore.

Becerra argued that the proposed rule intrudes into and violates the patient-provider relationship shortly after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed the rule change in May 2018. He requested in July 2018 that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget reopen its review of the rule, saying the administration had not provided sufficient information on its rationale for the change.

He worked with 12 other state attorneys general to submit a letter opposing the proposed rule, and he filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get documentation about the formulation used for the rule.

Leaders of Los Angeles-based Essential Access Health, which administers Title X funds all around the nation, announced Friday that their company and Dr. Melissa Marshall, who runs a Title X-funded health clinic in Yolo County, also were seeking an injunction to block implementation of the rule. In a prepared news release, they said that the regulations are unconstitutional, violate current law and will inflict incalculable harm on Title X patients.

“These regulations were clearly written to inject political ideology into medical care,” said Julie Rabinovitz, president and chief executive of Essential Access Health. “They are not directed at fixing any real problem with the existing Title X program, widely considered one of the biggest public health achievements of the last century.”

The court is set to hear arguments on the preliminary injunction on April 18, according to the news release from Essential Access, which runs the largest Title X system in the nation. Essential Access is also challenging the rule in federal court.

The Trump administration rule has become known as a “gag rule” because it places prohibitions on what doctors can say to patients and what treatments doctors can offer patients.

Marshall said: “These regulations would dictate a different standard of care for low-income women seeking reproductive health services and promote unethical medical practices. My patients count on me to give them unbiased information about all of their options for care. The regulations would force me to violate the trust my patients have that I will give them the best care possible.”

The California Medical Association submitted a declaration along with Becerra’s motion, expressing similar concerns as those voiced by Marshall. In it, Dr. Tanya Spirtos, took the White House to task for a policy that she said would restrict care for as many as 1 million women in California alone.

“The rule is likely to seriously undermine the effectiveness of the Title X program and make it more difficult for low-income patients in California to access the full range of reproductive health care and thus reverse established medical access for California women,” Spirtos wrote. She also noted that the rule “restricts physicians from speaking freely with their patients, violates core ethical standards, and undermines the physician-patient relationship.”

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