Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo: Shutterstock

A coalition of states on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration alleging that a new federal rule that bars health care providers receiving Title X funds from referring a patient for an abortion violates the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.

The coalition, which is led by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, is also seeking an injunction against the rule, which is set to take effect in late April.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is co-leading the lawsuit, called the rule “baseless” in a statement announcing the state’s involvement in the lawsuit Tuesday. She spoke out against the rule-making when the language was released last month.

“Title X funds provide essential family planning and health care services,” James said. “These new rules are baseless, dangerous, and will prevent millions of people from obtaining access to quality and safe care.”

Title X funds have been in place for nearly five decades as a way for the federal government to provide grants to health care providers who offer family planning and preventive health services. The rule would restrict federal Title X funding from health care providers who refer women for an abortion or who encourage abortion as a method of family planning.

The move is seen by the states as a way for the Trump administration to strip funding from Planned Parenthood clinics and send more to faith-based organizations that do not promote abortion. That could cause many of the former clinics, that rely on Title X funding, to either reduce the amount of services they provide or close altogether, the states said in the lawsuit.

“The final rule would, if implemented, force clinics to close or reduce their services to the detriment of their patients, because many clinics could or would not restructure as required but could no longer remain open or maintain service levels without Title X funds,” the lawsuit said.

That’s problematic, the states argued, because health care providers that offer abortion, such as Planned Parenthood, also offer several other unrelated services. Some individuals may lose access to those services if providers are forced to make cuts or close their doors, the states said.

“Because compliance with the final rule would require providers to compromise their professional responsibilities to their patients, the final rule’s changes would cause a dramatic nationwide reduction of the number of high-quality providers who remain in the Title X Program,” the lawsuit said. “And those providers who do remain would be prohibited from providing the same high-quality medical advice and care that they have always provided.”

New York state received $14 million in Title X funding in 2017, according to the complaint. The state then distributed that funding to health care providers, many of which offer abortion services and counseling. More than 59,000 unintended pregnancies were prevented by Title X providers in New York alone in 2015, the lawsuit said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a statement on the lawsuit, said stripping certain health care providers in New York of that funding would be “unethical.”

“As the Trump administration wages war on reproductive rights, New York is saying no way, no how to this unabashed attempt to silence doctors and limit access to vital health care services,” Cuomo said. “These rules are unethical and unconstitutional, and as promised, we will fight them in court to send a clear message that New York will always protect the fundamental rights of women.”

The states, through the lawsuit, came at the final rule from several different directions in an effort to have it reversed in federal court. They claimed, for example, that a federal law passed in 2018 included language that required all pregnancy counseling offered by health care providers to be nondirective, or neutral. The rule runs contrary to that law by prohibiting abortion referrals and counseling that promotes abortion as an option, the states argued.

They also claimed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unlawfully promulgated the rule without going through the the proper channels, like seeking expert opinions and other material evidence.

“The final rule reverses a prior agency decision without providing a reasoned explanation for the change while simultaneously disregarding material facts and evidence, including nationally recognized standards of care for medical professionals, which supported the agency’s prior rules,” the lawsuit said. “The final rule is not evidence-based.”

A request for comment sent to HHS on Tuesday was not immediately returned.

State attorneys general from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin are also on the lawsuit.

The action was filed in the federal court in Eugene, Oregon.

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