Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan welcomed a federal judge’s decision Monday that blocks a Trump administration attempt to prevent federally funded health care providers from referring pregnant women to abortion clinics.
Describing the new policy as “madness,” U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in Oregon issued the second nationwide injunction by a federal judge against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attempt to implement new rules beginning Friday in the so-called Title X program. It provides comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services for low-income families or uninsured people.
Vermont is one of 20 states, the District of Columbia, the American Medical Association and the Planned Parenthood Federation that filed suit against Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to halt the rule change.
“What this ruling means is that 10,000 Vermonters still have access to affordable healthcare,” Donovan said Tuesday.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine also applauded the decision, saying the change was an “effort to undercut public health care services” for women across the country.
“We will continue working to ensure that any future such actions will not diminish access to affordable, quality care in Vermont,” Levine said.
McShane called the rules change “a ham-fisted approach to health policy that recklessly disregards the health outcomes of women, families, and communities.”
Oregon Right to Life, which supports the federal agency’s rules changes, criticized the judge.
“This appears to be the height of activist judging,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Liberty Pike. She said the original intent of Title X was to aid in family planning.
“Abortion is not family planning,” Pike said in a phone interview.
A judge in Washington state made a similar ruling last week.
The new rules would have banned abortion referrals by taxpayer-funded clinics. Such a clinic could give a list of health-care providers to a pregnant woman, but not say which ones provide abortion procedures, even if the woman was seeking such a procedure.
“This is madness,” McShane wrote.
McShane compared the new rules to a novel by Franz Kafka, whose protagonists face bizarre or surrealistic predicaments.
“If a woman seeks to have a legal abortion and requests a referral from her Title X provider, the Final Rule requires a referral for prenatal care,” the judge wrote.
The new rules would also have prohibited clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers.
Supporters of the changes say they return Title X’s regulations back to their original legislative intent that “none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”