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Biden administration rolls back Trump-era rule restricting federal funds to clinics over abortion services

The reversal comes as the Supreme Court will consider a case likely to produce the most important ruling on abortion in 30 years.
Image: Pro-choice activists gather in support of Planned Parenthood during a demonstration against a Trump administration Title X rule change in New York on Feb. 25, 2019.
Abortion rights activists gather in support of Planned Parenthood at a demonstration against a Trump administration Title X rule change in New York on Feb. 25, 2019.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

The Biden administration on Monday formally reversed a Trump-era rule that barred reproductive health care clinics that provide abortion referrals and services from receiving federal funds.

The new rule, which will go into effect Nov. 8, paves the way for major providers like Planned Parenthood to rejoin Title X, the federal family planning program created nearly 50 years ago to fill in gaps in health care access and affordability, particularly for those living in rural or otherwise underserved areas.

“This rule is a step forward for family planning care as it aims to strengthen and restore our nation’s Title X program,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Monday in a statement. “Our nation’s family planning clinics play a critical role in delivering health care, and today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals—based on a patient’s needs and direction.”

Clinics that receive Title X funds also provide breast and cervical cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted infections for more than 190 million low-income or uninsured people, Becerra said.

In a May 2018 speech, then-President Donald Trump promoted his administration's impending rule change as a "historic announcement" that fulfilled a campaign promise.

"For decades, American taxpayers have been wrongfully forced to subsidize the abortion industry through Title X federal funding," he said at the time.

The restriction went into effect in 2019.

Leaders of reproductive health care providers said they faced a choice between continuing to offer abortion referrals or services — and losing millions of dollars in annual federal funds — or complying.

In 2019, Planned Parenthood announced that it was withdrawing from Title X rather than comply, calling it an "unethical gag rule.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among other public health associations, also opposed the Trump-era restriction.

The Biden administration is challenging a Texas abortion law that sparked protests over the weekend. The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to declare the law, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, invalid.

The Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, is also considering a challenge to a Mississippi abortion law that could produce the most consequential ruling on the issue in decades.

President Joe Biden issued a memorandum in January directing HHS to review rules that impose “undue restrictions” on women’s access to health care. HHS first issued a proposed rule reversing the Trump-era restriction on Title X funds in April.

Becerra, citing his department's 2020 Family Planning Annual Report, also said the Title X program experienced a “significant decline in the number of clients served in 2020.”

The report estimates there was a drop of 2.4 million family planning patients from 2018 to 2020, 1.5 million of which can be attributed to the Trump rule change.