Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.
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Trump admin begins implementing domestic gag rule

Updated

In the spring, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a new policy designed to silence taxpayer-funded family planning clinics, preventing them from letting patients know about their abortion rights. Now, as the Associated Press reported, Team Trump has begun implementing the policy.

Taxpayer-funded family planning clinics must stop referring women for abortions immediately, the Trump administration said Monday, declaring it will begin enforcing a new regulation hailed by religious conservatives and denounced by medical organizations and women’s rights groups.

The head of a national umbrella group representing the clinics said the administration is following “an ideological agenda” that could disrupt basic health care for many low-income women.

Ahead of a planned conference Tuesday with the clinics, the Health and Human Services Department formally notified them that it will begin enforcing the ban on abortion referrals.

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 in this case is how Trump is going after the women’s health organization. As we discussed several months ago, 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, in turn, rejected the policy.)

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

The policy debate might 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.

Opponents of the policy urged the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to block the policy last week, but the judges demurred. The legal challenge testing the administration’s measure is still ongoing, but the appellate court said the policy can take effect while the process unfolds.