Lawsuit Includes Challenge to the “Gag Rule” That Prevents Health Care Providers from Discussing Safe and Legal Abortions with Their Patients
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over new regulations that effectively dismantle Title X, a national family planning program that provides millions of dollars to help low-income women in Massachusetts and across the country access health care services.
The new regulations include a “gag rule” that effectively bans Title X providers from discussing safe and legal abortions with their patients, regardless of the provider’s judgment or the patient’s wishes.
“These new regulations are a direct attack on the health care of millions of low-income women and will restrict access to critical services,” AG Healey said. “We are suing to protect the ability of all women in Massachusetts and across the country to make fully informed decisions about their health care.”
In the lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon, the attorneys general allege that the new regulations are unconstitutional, violate federal law, and threaten the health and well-being of millions of low-income women and families. According to the lawsuit, the regulations place burdensome, illegal, and unnecessary restrictions on federal funding for Title X that will deny low-income women access to family planning services and accurate, complete information about their health.
In fiscal year 2018, Massachusetts received $4.3 million in Title X funding that allowed 96 service sites in the state to offer a wide range of services to women including pregnancy testing, contraceptive services, routine gynecological care, cervical and breast cancer screenings, infertility services, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and health education.
Title X services have a profound impact on the lives of Massachusetts residents. Services provided through the federal program help avert thousands of unintended pregnancies in the state each year. By reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in low-income populations that rely on MassHealth, Title X saves the state and the federal government an estimated $150 million a year.
“I thank Attorney General Maura Healey for standing up for the 75,000 patients in Massachusetts whose health and wellbeing are at risk because of the Trump-Pence administration’s latest political game,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. “The Trump-Pence administration’s gag rule on family planning providers will leave people without access to affordable birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment. As a doctor for over 20 years, I am grateful to AG Healey for fighting back against this unethical, unworkable, and harmful gag rule.”
“Each time the Trump administration attempts to limit reproductive freedom, Attorney General Healey fights back against these anti-woman, anti-science attacks on women’s equality. Once again, we stand with her as she works to stop the domestic gag rule,” NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts Executive Director Rebecca Hart Holder said. “Unless stopped, the domestic gag rule will create a two-tiered system of reproductive health care. Women with private insurance will be able to access unbiased, fact-based information about accessing abortion and speak candidly with their health care provider about abortion care. Low-income women who rely on federal family planning funds to access birth control will encounter a clinician gagged by the Trump administration who is unable to offer them the critical information they need to make an informed decision about abortion care. This is simply unacceptable and we applaud the Attorney General’s tireless opposition to the domestic gag rule.”
The attorneys general argue in the lawsuit that by preventing Title X funding recipients from effectively discussing or referring patients to abortion providers and requiring Title X providers to refer pregnant patients to prenatal care, the federal government is interfering with the provider-patient relationship and the ethical obligations of medical professionals. The regulations also include a new requirement that all facilities that accept Title X funding be physically separate from any facility that provides abortion services, including having separate staff and infrastructure including medical records. This new requirement, the lawsuit argues, would force many to clinics close or reduce the services they provide.
According to the lawsuit, these new regulations conflict with the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from adopting any regulation that creates a barrier to accessing appropriate medical care, interferes with the provider/patient relationship, or restricts the ability of health care providers to provide the full disclosure of all relevant information to patients making health care decisions.
In the lawsuit, the attorneys general are seeking an order vacating the regulations well as an injunction preventing their implementation.
Today’s lawsuit follows comments AG Healey and the attorneys general of Washington, Oregon, and Vermont submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services in July 2018 opposing the initial proposed rule to roll back the Title X program.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association filed a separate parallel lawsuit today also in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon.
This matter was handled for Massachusetts by Assistant Attorney General Amanda Hainsworth, of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Assistant Attorneys General Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Healey’s Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau and Genevieve Nadeau, State Enforcement Counsel.
Joining AG Healey in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of Oregon, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia.
[From a News Release]