The Department of Health and Human Services under President Joe Biden has reversed the abortion referral ban issued under the term of President Donald Trump. The agency announced it would restore the original family planning programs established under the administration of President Barack Obama.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that this reversal would mean family planning clinics funded by the government may resume referring women who want to get an abortion to a provider. The secretary hopes that this will "strengthen and restore" services under reproductive health.
At the time of the ban, some 1,300 facilities left the family planning program as a protest against the Trump administration policies. Clinic workers are now hoping that providers who left will return to the program, especially during this time of need in the pandemic.
It Was a 'Gag Rule'
Several women's groups criticized the abortion referral ban, which took effect in 2019 and called the Title X family planning program a gag rule. They cited that it is a violation of the relationship between the clinic and the patient.
However, religious groups and conservative advocates supported strictly regulating family planning services when it came to abortions. Trump then redirected funding for the service to religious-based agencies that are anti-abortion.
The HHS said that the abortion referral ban was a factor in the dip in services rendered by the clinics by as much as 40 percent. It also resulted in at least 180,000 unwanted and unintended pregnancies.
This reversal was expected since Biden made this one of his promises during his campaign, even as abortion did not become a hot issue in the 2020 elections. In a joint statement with Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden said they are "deeply committed to making sure everyone has access to care - including reproductive health care."
After the passing of the Texas abortion law and with the Supreme Court reviewing more abortion law changes from other states, reproductive rights could be a focal issue during the 2022 midterm elections. The Supreme Court has not blocked the Texas abortion law, dubbed the most restrictive law in the country for banning abortion at the sixth week of pregnancy.
The justices will deliberate on the arguments for the Mississippi abortion law in December. This rule calls for an abortion ban at 15 weeks.
Criticism from Both Sides
Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortion service provider in the country, expressed plans to return to the reactivated family planning program. However, the group criticized one of the conditions in the Biden reversal that will allow individual clinicians, who are against abortion, not to give out referrals.
On the other hand, the pro-life group National Right to Life Committee called out Biden for "supplementing the abortion industry through taxpayer funds." The group said that over 62 million abortions happened in the U.S. from 1973 to 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Roe V. Wade case. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that abortion rates have declined from 1975 and 2012, but its numbers do not include California, Maryland, and New Hampshire.
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