The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a Trump-era abortion policy known as the domestic gag rule. The rule is more or less what it sounds like: When it went into effect in 2019, it banned federally-funded clinics from referring patients to abortion providers or—in its strictest interpretation—from discussing abortion as an option at all.
The policy presented reproductive health clinics with an impossible choice: Stop providing essential services to their patients, or forego the millions of dollars in Title X funds that may be keeping them open. Some clinics chose the latter option. Planned Parenthood opted to leave the Title X program, as did all of the clinics that once received funding in Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington. In total, roughly 900 clinics lost their federal funding.
The policy had immediate effects on low-income people and people of color, since the government would no longer reimburse clinics for the reduced-cost services they provided. (Here it’s important to note that federal funds are already barred from going toward abortion care, which is allegedly the anti-abortion camp’s concern here; the Hyde Amendment has prohibited that since 1976.) The costs of birth control skyrocketed for patients, and in the days following the new policy, many of them cancelled their appointments because they couldn’t afford the increased costs of care.
Twenty-one states signed onto a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services in March 2019, echoing advocates who (rightfully) claimed the gag rule infringed on doctors’ relationships with their patients, and restricted people’s reproductive freedoms. While Biden signed a memorandum in January calling on HHS to consider rescinding the Title X rule, NPR reports that doing so “requires a multistep procedural process that will take time.”
Abortion rights supporters will take a victory wherever they can get it—though the current balance of the court certainly makes it seem like it will have to come from the Executive Branch.
Plaintiffs in the suit—which include Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the ACLU—said in a joint statement: “We remain committed to securing a swift outcome, whether from the court or the Biden administration, that will protect Title X patients, physicians, providers, and the health of the nation from further irreparable harm imposed by the current rule.”