Appeals court takes up fresh challenge to Trump abortion ‘gag rule’

9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

The order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks the latest turn in a battle over the Trump administration’s changes to the Title X program. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said it would take up a fresh challenge to the Trump administration’s overhaul of the federal family planning program just weeks after three of its Republican-appointed judges said the policy change can take effect nationwide while several legal challenges play out.

The appeals court froze the administration’s rule revamping the Title X program while it hears the case, according to Brigitte Amiri, deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Story Continued Below

The court’s order marks the latest turn in a battle over the administration’s changes to the program, which seek to steer federal dollars away from providers such as Planned Parenthood that offer abortions and abortion referrals. Critics have dubbed the Trump policy a “gag rule.”

The order covers several challenges to the rules, but it’s unclear whether they will be heard together or separately.

Some major provisions of the overhaul were due to take effect in early May but halted in April by national injunctions ordered by lower federal courts in Oregon and Washington state, as well as a statewide injunction in California, after nearly two dozen states and providers including the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood sued.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit lifted those injunctions on June 20, finding that the administration will likely prevail in the legal battle since the Supreme Court held up similar Reagan-era rules almost 30 years ago.

The ruling caught states that distribute Title X funds off guard, and they’ve been scrambling to figure out what exactly the ruling meant while emergency motions were filed. Grantees hadn’t heard from HHS, and a department spokesperson told POLITICO late last month that HHS had “not yet begun monitoring or enforcing the new rule. We will provide further guidance in due course.”

At least one grantee, Washington state, began using only state funds for its family planning program to minimize any uncertainty of whether doctors could make abortion referrals.

Some blue states, such as Oregon and Washington, had previously threatened to withdraw from the federal program if the changes went into effect, and forfeit millions of dollars. Planned Parenthood, which cares for a large share of the 4 million low-income patients the program serves, also wouldn’t participate. The group argued the rulings are unethical — and in some instances, contrary to state law — and intrude on the doctor-patient relationship.

The Trump administration and conservative lawmakers argue Title X has been supporting abortion providers at the expense of other reproductive health services, though there are long-standing restrictions on federal dollars going toward abortions.