Washington state to sue over Trump’s new abortion policy

Gene Johnson
Associated Press
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference announcing a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's Title X "gag rule" Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Seattle.

Seattle – Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday he will sue to challenge President Donald Trump’s policy setting up new obstacles for women seeking abortions, calling it “a transparent attack on Planned Parenthood” that would severely impair access to many types of medical care, especially for low-income women in rural areas.

It’s the first of several legal challenges expected to be announced by Democratic-led states. A national organization representing publicly funded family planning providers said Monday it would file a separate lawsuit over the policy.

The new rules announced last Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services would bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals. They would also prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers – a rule that Ferguson said would force many to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.

Clinics that receive money under Title X, the 1970 law designed to improve access to reproductive health care for communities around the nation, provide a wide array of services, including birth control and screening for diabetes, depression and cancer. Beyond interfering in a patient’s relationship with her doctor, Ferguson said, the rules could leave vast areas without such care for low-income residents.

“Rural communities currently have a shortage of health care providers,” Ferguson told reporters. “This rule will make the shortage even more acute.”

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. Religious conservatives and abortion opponents have long complained that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize abortion providers.

Ferguson said he would file the lawsuit in federal court in Spokane, in eastern Washington, after the policy is made official with its publication in the federal register and that he would seek a court order blocking it from taking effect. Eastern Washington has 20 counties, 11 of which would be left without Title X providers, he said.

Across Washington state, 14,000 patients received federally funded services at 85 of the clinics in 2017.

Ferguson said Trump’s policy violates the Affordable Care Act, which protects providers and patients from government interference in the health care relationship, and a federal law that requires doctors to provide information about abortion and prenatal care to patients in an unbiased manner.

It also violates the Administrative Procedures Act by contradicting Title X regulations without sufficient justification, and it violates doctors’ right to free speech and women’s right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade, he alleged.

Erin Berry, Washington state medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, was one of many advocates who joined Ferguson at his news conference.

“I cannot imagine withholding information from my patients. It’s unethical,” she said. “Politicians have no business telling me what I can talk to my patients about.”