A United States federal appeals court said on Thursday that new Trump administration rules imposing additional hurdles for women seeking abortions can take effect while the government appeals decisions that blocked them.
The new rules ban taxpayer-funded clinics from making abortion referrals and prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers – a rule that critics said would force many to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down. Many considered the rules an attack on Planned Parenthood.
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More than 20 states and several civil rights and health organisations challenged the rules in cases filed in Oregon, Washington and California.
Judges in all three states blocked the rules from taking effect, with Oregon and Washington judges issuing nationwide injunctions. One judge called the new policy “madness”.
But a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco called the rules a “reasonable” interpretation of a federal law that prohibits taxpayer-funded health clinics from advocating, encouraging or promoting abortion.
The panel said the lower courts appeared to have gotten the rulings wrong, and it granted a stay of those orders requested by the Justice Department. That allows the rules to take effect while the government appeals the lower court rulings.
“We are pleased that the 9th Circuit has cleared the way for this important executive branch action to take effect while our appeals are pending,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in an emailed statement to the Associated Press. “The Department of Justice’s position is supported by long-standing Supreme Court precedent and we are confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”
‘Unethical, illegal and harmful’
Planned Parenthood said it would immediately ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the decision.
“The Trump-Pence administration’s gag rule is unethical, illegal, and harmful to public health,” Dr Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a written statement.
“The news out of the 9th Circuit this morning is devastating for the millions of people who rely on Title X health centres for cancer screenings, HIV tests, affordable birth control and other critical primary and preventive care,” she added.
A federal court in Maryland has also issued an order blocking the rules from taking effect, but that ruling only applies in that state. The Justice Department has appealed it.
Thursday’s ruling comes politicians in many conservative states introduce and pass new restrictions that take aim at the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which legalised abortion.
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organisation, reported at the end of May that 27 abortion bans have been enacted across 12 states so far in 2019.
Additionally, the organisation reported that between January 1 and May 31, 479 abortion restrictions were enacted in 33 states, accounting for more than a third of the 1,271 abortion restrictions enacted since the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling.
The Trump administration has also reinstated and expanded the global gag rule that bans international organisations that receive US funding from providing abortion services or offering information about the procedure. The rule has traditionally been rescinded or rolled back by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republican leaders.
The Trump administration has also expanded the policy to include funding coming from the US Department of State, USAID and Department of Defense.
The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) said in a report this month that the moves have “deprived women of essential healthcare” and is “ultimately killing” women worldwide.