Hawaii Attorney General Clare E. Connors today joined a coalition of 21 state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new federal rule that opponents say restricts information and access to reproductive health services for low-income women in the United States.
The lawsuit, led by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and New York Attorney General Letitia James, was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore.
Under the new rule — called the “gag rule” by opponents — providers in any clinic receiving Title X funding will be barred from referring a patient for an abortion, even if she requests that information, according to a news release from the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General. In many circumstances, the new rule bars discussing an abortion with a patient, the statement says.
The new rule was issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.
“We joined this litigation because the regulations are unconstitutional, were enacted illegally and without any evidentiary basis,” said Connors in the news release. “These new rules would, if implemented, directly harm Hawaii families, particularly women, by limiting their access to quality comprehensive health care. The changes would significantly decrease funding for medical services to uninsured, under-insured, and low-income individuals.”
Title X is the only federal grant program that funds family planning programs to help patients gain access to contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, wellness exams, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and other health services. In fiscal 2017, the grant program provided more than $286 million in family planning and preventive health services to low-income individuals.
The lawsuit alleges that the Title X rule, if implemented, would “reduce access and erode the quality of reproductive health care” that Title X was originally intended to provide for low-income individuals. Additionally, it would interfere with the health care provider and patient relationship by limiting what a doctor can say to a patient, the lawsuit asserts.
The attorney generals of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin also joined the suit.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association filed a similar lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore. One of the concerns of the AMA and Planned Parenthood is that the new Title X rule may result in a shift of some money to ideologically conservative entities which favor abstinence education and natural family planning and which would be unwilling or unable to provide women with the most effective forms of contraception.
The new Trump administration rule is scheduled to take effect in 60 days, but implementation is likely to be delayed by the litigation.
The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services have declined comment on the lawsuits. HHS contends that the new rule “makes notable improvements designed to increase the number of patients served and improve the quality of their care.”
Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for the procedure except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.
Religious conservatives and abortion opponents contend that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize Planned Parenthood — the leading abortion provider in the U.S.
Groups such as the National Right to Life Committee have hailed the new rule, saying it does not cut funding, but “merely ensures that health facilities receiving Title X funds do not perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.”