Appeals Court Says Trump Administration's Abortion 'Gag Rule' Can Take Effect For Now

The 9th Circuit ruled that the limit on Title X funding for women's health care can take effect while court cases go forward.

A federal appeals court decided Thursday that a Trump administration “gag rule” that puts strict limits on federal funding for reproductive health care can take effect while the government appeals decisions that blocked them.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, called the rule, which also prevents women from obtaining information about abortion, a “reasonable” interpretation of a federal law that blocks publicly funded health clinics from advocating, encouraging or promoting abortion.

The decision came after more than 20 states and civil rights organizations challenged the rule by filing lawsuits in Oregon, Washington and California. Judges in all three states blocked the rules from going into effect, and the first two states issued nationwide injunctions.

Under the Department of Health and Human Services’ gag rule announced in February, groups that provide abortions or abortion referrals could be barred from participating in the $286 million Title X family planning program. Federally funded family planning clinics were already barred from performing abortions with Title X funds.

The rule is a major swipe at groups like Planned Parenthood that provide ― often to low-income women ― contraception, cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, in addition to abortions.

The rule would also put a “gag” on Title X providers by banning them from referring patients to providers, allowing them to refuse to give information about abortion to patients and requiring a physical wall between family planning services and abortion services.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson previously estimated that the rule could lead to about 90% of Title X family planning service providers closing.

Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Thursday that the 9th Circuit’s decision “is devastating for the millions of people who rely on Title X health centers for cancer screenings, HIV tests, affordable birth control and other critical primary and preventative care.”

“But we’re not done fighting,” Wen tweeted.

The panel said the lower courts in California, Oregon and Washington got the rulings wrong when they issued preliminary injunctions, and the appeals court granted a stay of those orders requested by the Justice Department. That stay allows the gag rule to take effect while HHS appeals the lower court rulings.

“We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit has cleared the way for this important executive branch action to take effect while our appeals are pending,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco told CBS. “The Department of Justice’s position is supported by long-standing Supreme Court precedent and we are confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday that the state will continue to work toward protecting Title X, stressing that the appeals court decision “blocks doctors and medical providers from informing patients of their options and risks hurting millions of people.”

Read the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit below: