REUTERS: A federal appeals court on Thursday cleared the way for the Trump administration to enforce a controversial rule barring clinics that receive federal funds for family planning services from referring patients to abortion providers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set aside injunctions blocking nationwide enforcement of the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on May 3, while the rule is challenged in court.
A three-judge panel called the rule a "reasonable interpretation" of the federal family planning law known as Title X, and said the administration was likely to successfully show it should be upheld. The panel said the public interest supported the rule, given the government's "important policy interest" in ensuring that taxpayer dollars not fund or subsidize abortions.
The rule announced in February substantially restored a rule created in 1988 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991.
It was also intended to fulfill Republican President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to end federal support for Planned Parenthood. The non-profit, which supports abortion rights, receives an estimated one-fifth of all Title X funds, which totaled US$286 million in 2017.
While clinics receiving Title X funds can discuss abortion with patients, the rule blocks them from advising where to go for the procedure. It also requires that the clinics set up separate facilities if they provide abortions, which can be costly.
Critics call the restrictions a "gag rule" that prevents clinics from providing birth control, cancer screening, HIV testing and other essential healthcare services, especially to poor people and minorities.
The injunctions had been issued by federal District Court judges in California, Oregon and Washington, each part of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that staying the injunctions "risks access to critical reproductive healthcare for millions of Americans." The attorneys general of Oregon and Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nineteen other states and Washington, D.C., are plaintiffs in the Oregon case.
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco said the agency's position "is supported by long-standing Supreme Court precedent and we are confident we will ultimately prevail."
The 9th Circuit is hearing the states' appeal on an expedited basis. While the court is widely among the most liberal federal appeals courts, all three judges on Thursday's panel were appointed by Republican presidents.
The "gag rule is unethical, illegal, and harmful to public health," Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
The cases in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals include California v Azar et al, No. 19-15974; Oregon et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35386; and Washington et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35394.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Caroline Humer in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)