WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has rescinded an Obama-era rule that banned states from excluding the abortion giant Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid program.
“HHS’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is issuing new guidance to state Medicaid directors restoring state flexibility to decide program standards. The letter issued today rescinds 2016 guidance that specifically restricted states’ ability to take certain actions against family-planning providers that offer abortion services,” HHS outlined in a press release on Friday.
As previously reported, in September 2016, the HHS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, advising that intended to amend the Code of Federal Regulations to read, “No recipient making subawards for the provision of services as part of its Title X project may prohibit an entity from participating for reasons unrelated to its ability to provide services effectively.”
Title X was enacted in 1970 under the Public Health Service Act and authorizes the Office of Population Affairs to oversee the disbursement of federal funds for the purpose of assisting organizations that offer “family planning” services. States distribute the capital to reproductive and women’s health organizations as they see fit.
In recent years, a number of states have sought to defund the abortion giant Planned Parenthood after granting the organization funds for years, stating that they do not wish to assist groups that provide abortion services, even if the funds will not be directly used for abortion.
But the Obama administration contended that stripping abortion facilities of funding results in undesired births, and that such locations are important because they provide contraceptives.
“Reducing access to Title X services has many adverse effects. Title X services have a dramatic effect on the number of unintended pregnancies and births in the United States,” HHS said at the time. “For example, services provided by Title X-funded sites helped prevent an estimated 1 million unintended pregnancies in 2010 which would have resulted in an estimated 501,000 unplanned births.”
It finalized the rule in December 2016.
Planned Parenthood decried this week’s move by the Trump administration to restore the status quo prior to what it was before the Obama-era prohibition.
“The law is clear: it is illegal to bar women from seeking care at Planned Parenthood. Long-standing protections within Medicaid safeguard every person’s right to access care at their qualified provider of choice,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.
Religious freedom advocacy groups, however, applauded the move as being commendable.
“Medicaid dollars should go to local community health centers serving women—not the scandal-ridden billion-dollar abortion industry. In contrast to the Obama administration’s policy designed to reward the Big Abortion lobby, this rule empowers state legislatures to allocate Medicaid funding for women’s health,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) legal counsel Elissa Graves said in a statement.
HHS also explained that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is similarly rolling out a proposed rule to enforce 25 conscience protections already enshrined in law, which pertain to medical professionals who object to participating in abortions, sterilizations or physician-assisted suicide.
“America’s doctors and nurses are dedicated to saving lives and should not be bullied out of the practice of medicine simply because they object to performing abortions against their conscience,” OCR Director Roger Severino said in a statement. “Conscience protection is a civil right guaranteed by laws that too often haven’t been enforced.”
“Today’s proposed rule will provide our new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division with enforcement tools that will make sure our conscience laws are not empty words on paper, but guarantees of justice to victims of unlawful discrimination,” he remarked.
As previously reported, HHS likewise announced on Thursday that it is creating a new OCR division focused on protecting the right of conscience and religious freedom.
“The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom,” the department said in a statement.