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A divided 9th Circuit could uphold Trump's new abortion referral rule

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal appeals court appeared divided along party lines Monday on whether to uphold a new Trump administration rule that denies federal family planning money to clinics that refer patients for abortions.

During a hearing in San Francisco, an 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether to reinstate preliminary injunctions issued by three district judges against the new rule.

Seven of the judges chosen randomly for the panel are Republican appointees, including two new judges Trump placed on the court. Four of the judges were appointed by Democrats.

Judges appointed by Democrats appeared skeptical of the government's arguments. Judges appointed by Republicans asked questions that helped the government's case.

Family planning organizations, the American Medical Association, 22 states and the District of Columbia have challenged the rule.

It established new requirements for funds distributed under Title X, a 1970 federal law intended to help poor women and those in isolated, rural settings obtain family planning services.


In addition to banning abortion referrals, the administration's rule requires recipients of the funds to refer pregnant women for prenatal care, even if the patients want abortions.

Recipients also must encourage patients to discuss their situations with their families and to tell single women about the benefits of abstinence.

Opponents of the rule told the 9th Circuit that it violates a congressional rider that says all counseling must be neutral. Requiring referrals for prenatal care but banning them for abortion favors one option over the other, the challengers argued.

Since the rule went into effect this summer, 20% of 80 organizations have left the program, saying they could not comply.


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