The Biden administration took a major step to support abortion providers around the country with a decision officially reversing a Trump-era rule banning clinics that receive federal family-planning funding from referring patients for abortion services.
The decision on Monday reversed a move undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in February 2019 that changed Title X rules which govern federal funding for reproductive health services and family planning for low-income Americans.
Under the program, clinics around the country receive federal money to provide patients with sexually transmitted disease (STD) screenings, contraceptive care, and more.
The Biden administration’s reversal of the 2019 rule comes as the battle over abortion rights has charged back onto the national stage following the implementation of a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Texas, as well as a challenge to Roe v Wade set to be heard later this year by the US Supreme Court.
HHS originally proposed the rule change in April; Monday’s decision finalises that change.
“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,” said HHS director Xavier Becerra on Monday in a statement.
President Joe Biden also criticised the rule upon taking office in January, declaring in a presidential memo that the rule change “puts women’s health at risk by making it harder for women to receive complete medical information”.
As the ban took effect, Planned Parenthood and other organisations that refer patients for abortions opted to end recipiency of Title X funding rather than be forced to stop providing abortion-related services.
“When you have an unethical rule that will limit what providers can tell our patients, it becomes really important that we not agree to be in the program,” said the organisation’s acting president at the time.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, its political arm, called Monday’s announcement “HUGE news for providers + millions of patients cut off from sexual/reproductive health services under the Trump administration – like STD treatment, cancer screenings, pre-pregnancy care, & counseling.”
“But: this victory comes with disappointing language allowing providers to refuse to counsel/refer patients for abortions due to their own personal beliefs. Title X is a crucial social safety net that should ensure pregnant people with low incomes are given all available options,” the group added.
As a result of the Trump administration’s action, several states saw the complete end of Title X services provided by health clinics. Planned Parenthood previously said in April when the Biden administration proposed reversing the rule change that services could begin as soon as next year should the change occur.