Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Targeting abortion rights, Trump unveils ‘domestic gag rule’

Donald Trump, who was pro-choice in the not-too-distant past and never fit the mold of a far-right culture-war crusader, has taken a keen interest in abortion rights lately. The president peddled a few transparent falsehoods about reproductive rights during his State of the Union address, for example, and he reportedly had a heated confrontation with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) over the issue at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

Today’s news, however, takes Trump’s campaign in an even more dramatic direction.

The Trump administration says it will prohibit taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, a move certain to be challenged in court by abortion rights supporters.

The policy released Friday by the Health and Human Services Department pleased religious conservatives, a key building block of President Donald Trump’s political base.

The administration plan would also prohibit family planning clinics from being housed in the same location as abortion providers.

As I always do when writing about this, I want to emphasize, in the interest of disclosure, that my wife works for Planned Parenthood. And while the White House is making changes to the family-planning program known as Title X, and those changes will affect a variety of health care organizations that provide services to millions of women, it’s not exactly a secret that today’s policy is intended to target Planned Parenthood.

What’s especially notable about today’s developments is how Trump is going after the women’s health organization. The issue is not about funding for abortion services, since there are already legal prohibitions on using taxpayer money to terminate pregnancies.

Rather, the administration’s new gambit is about blocking funds for those who might mention the word “abortion.” It’s why Trump’s policy is often described as the “domestic gag rule.”

The “global gag rule” is already in place. That policy, which Trump expanded soon after taking office, prevents non-governmental organizations that work on family planning from receiving public funds and telling women that abortion exists, even in countries where abortion is legal.

Sometimes known as the “Mexico City policy,” the global gag rule does extensive harm to women, especially in developing countries, but it’s nevertheless been embraced by every recent Republican administration. (Every recent Democratic administration has rejected the policy.)

Trump now intends to apply similar restrictions to health care organizations in the United States.

The policy debate may sound complex, but it’s relatively straightforward: entities that receive family-planning funding through Title X will no longer be able to fully inform women about their reproductive options. How will this help people? It won’t. This is about imposing government regulations on health care providers, limiting what physicians are allowed to say to their patients.

Expect a whole lot of lawsuits.