Oregon will lead the fight against a new Trump administration policy that could make it harder for low-income people to access safe and affordable abortions.
Called the “gag rule” by its opponents, a new requirement from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) limits health care providers' ability to educate their patients about abortion as an option. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced Monday that she will lead a lawsuit against the gag rule.
Many abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, receive funding through the federal program Title X, which reimburses clinics for services they provide for low-income and uninsured patients. The grant program funds reproductive health services like contraceptives, ultrasounds, wellness exams, and more.
There’s just one big exception: due to the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, no Title X funds—or any federal funds, for that matter—can be spent on abortions.
Last week, the DHS posted new rules for Title X recipients. Under new policy, reproductive health care clinics would not be able to give information about abortion to patients while they are accessing Title X-funded services.
Here’s what that looks like in the real world: a woman visits her local reproductive health clinic for a pregnancy test. She tests positive and tells her doctor she wants to get an abortion. If that pregnancy test was paid for by Title X funds, the doctor isn’t allowed to refer her patient to an abortion provider, or give her any information about how to access a safe abortion.
Many clinics provide abortion along with other reproductive health care services. The new policy presents a question of whether those clinics will need to change their operational protocol, or even their physical layouts, in order to keep abortion services entirely separate from Title X services.
That new rule could potentially affect thousands of Oregonians, many of them low-income and people of color. More than 37,000 people accessed services from Title X clinics in Oregon in 2017, according to a press release from Rosenblum's office. Two-thirds of those patients were at or below the poverty line, meaning Title X clinics may have been their only option for affordable care.
“What this new rule means is that providers in Oregon who receive Title X funding will have to decide whether they will refuse the funding or ‘cave’ to the requirements of this new rule,” Rosenblum said in a press release. “Neither is a good or fair option for women and families who often have no other access to medical care.”
Rosenblum will file her lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in Eugene on Tuesday. Twenty-one other state attorney generals will join her.