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Biden reverses Trump's anti-abortion 'gag rule,' in U.S. and abroad

The Trump administration created a policy known as the "domestic gag rule" to undermine abortion rights. The Biden administration has undone it.


For proponents of reproductive rights, the Biden administration made an important announcement yesterday. NBC News reported on the demise of a Trump-era rule "that barred reproductive health care clinics that provide abortion referrals and services from receiving federal funds."

The new rule, which will go into effect Nov. 8, paves the way for major providers like Planned Parenthood to rejoin Title X, the federal family planning program created nearly 50 years ago to fill in gaps in health care access and affordability, particularly for those living in rural or otherwise underserved areas.

If these developments sound a little familiar, it's because the Biden administration took related steps in the spring, but those changes related to a slightly different policy.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, in recent decades, there's been a prolonged fight over something known as the "Mexico City Policy": The Reagan administration adopted a policy that imposed a gag rule on international family planning organizations, prohibiting groups that receive public funds from telling patients that abortion exists, even in countries where abortion is legal.

There's ample evidence that the global gag rule does extensive harm to women, especially in developing countries, which is why the Clinton administration reversed the policy in 1993. Eight years later, George W. Bush restored the Mexico City Policy, though he clearly didn't know what it was.

The policy ping-pong never stopped. Barack Obama reversed Bush's order; Donald Trump reversed Obama's order; and in January of this year, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden kept the back-and-forth going, issuing a new presidential memorandum.

But Trump didn't just back a global gag rule; he also signed a U.S. version of the policy, which became known as the "domestic gag rule." The point wasn't to prohibit taxpayer support for abortion — that was already prohibited — but rather, to target funding for organizations that refer patients to other offices that provide abortion services.

That policy couldn't simply be undone through executive action; there was a regulatory process officials had to follow. Biden initiated that process earlier this year, and as of yesterday, the policy change is set to take effect.

Postscript: As I've done several dozen times, I want to emphasize, in the interest of disclosure, that my wife works for Planned Parenthood. And while the Trump administration pursued changes to the family-planning program known as Title X, and those changes affected a variety of health care organizations that provide services to millions of women, it wasn't exactly a secret that the Republican policy was intended to target Planned Parenthood.