Title X abortion rule remains amid legal challenge

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SAN FRANCISCO (BP) -- Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and other pro-life leaders have commended a federal appeals court's latest action to permit the Trump administration's Protect Life Rule to remain in effect while it undergoes a legal challenge.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in a 7-4 decision July 11 the administration can enforce a regulation that eliminates federal family planning funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions. Meeting "en banc" or as a full court, the Ninth Circuit upheld a three-judge panel in ruling against injunctions to block the rule's enforcement.

The final regulation, issued in February by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), bars the use of Title X money "to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning." The rule requires "clear financial and physical separation" between Title X programs and non-Title X programs in which abortion is promoted as a method of family planning.

The Protect Life Rule, as it has been labeled, cuts about 10 percent of the government money that goes annually to Planned Parenthood, the country's No. 1 abortion provider. Planned Parenthood reportedly receives $50 to $60 million yearly through Title X. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates collected $563.8 million in government grants and reimbursements and performed more than 332,757 abortions in the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), described the Ninth Circuit decision as "[g]ood news" in a July 12 tweet.

"Not even a penny of taxpayer dollars should support such an industry that devalues human life and exploits families," he said on Twitter.

When the rule was issued, Moore called it "a responsible step toward our goal of totally separating taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. We know this profit-driven industry, which devalues human life and exploits families, will do everything in its power to maneuver around this rule as they seek to use taxpayer dollars for abortion."

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the rule "draws a bright line between family planning and abortion. Abortion is not family planning."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the rule stops "abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund."

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood decried the Ninth Circuit decision.

PPFA -- which showed net assets of $1.88 billion at the end of its latest fiscal year -- "will keep fighting to block this dangerous rule that allows the government to censor our doctors and nurses from doing their jobs," said Leana Wen, the organization's president.

Under the rule, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers must comply with the financial separation requirements within 120 days and with the physical separation mandates within a year to receive Title X funds.

The new HHS regulation does not prohibit nondirective counseling regarding abortion, but it ends the requirement that Title X recipients must provide abortion counseling and referral. It also does not reduce Title X funds. Title X serves about 4 million Americans -- those of low income in particular.

The Reagan administration issued similar regulations to the new rule in the 1980s, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld them in 1991. The Clinton administration rescinded those rules, however.

Planned Parenthood, the American Medical Association and more than 20 states were among the parties that filed lawsuits in March to block the new HHS rule. Federal judges had blocked enforcement of the regulation before the Ninth Circuit granted the Trump administration's request for a stay enabling the rule to be enforced.

The Ninth Circuit said July 11 it would act quickly "en banc" to reconsider the legal efforts regarding the rule.

Messengers to the 2017 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for defunding of Planned Parenthood at all levels of government and denouncing the organization's "immoral agenda and practices." One of the ERLC's priorities in its 2019 legislative agenda is the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

The case is California v. Azar.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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