Biden lifts abortion ban on family planning clinics

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The WASHINGTON-Biden administration on Monday revoked a ban on abortion references from family planning clinics, which lifted a restriction in the Trump era as political and legal disputes over abortion escalate from Texas to the US Supreme Court.

The Department of Health and Human Services said its new ordinance would restore the federal family planning program to the way it ran under the Obama administration, when clinics could refer women seeking abortion to a provider.

Groups representing the clinics said they hoped the Biden administration’s actions would lead to hundreds of service providers leaving in protest of Trump’s return policy, helping to stabilize a long-running program that has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic beyond ideological battles.

The taxpayer-funded program, called Division X, makes more than $ 250 million a year available to clinics to provide contraception and basic health care services, primarily to low-income women. Under former President Donald Trump, clinics were banned from referring patients for abortions, prompting a mass exodus of service providers affiliated with Planned Parenthood, as well as several states and other independent organizations.

Women’s groups described the Trump policy as a “gag rule,” and medical organizations called it a breach of the clinician-patient relationship. But religious and social conservatives praised the policy for introducing a strict separation between family planning services and abortion. Under federal law, clinics could not use federal money to pay for abortions.

In 2018, the family planning clinics served approximately 3.9 million customers, but HHS estimates that the number decreased by almost 40% following the Trump policy. The turnaround may have led to more than 180,000 unintended pregnancies, the agency said.

Biden campaigned for a pledge to lift restrictions on family planning clinics, but abortion was not a key issue in the 2020 presidential election.

Restrictive state laws in Texas, Mississippi, and elsewhere have led to the mobilization of abortion advocates, who fear that a conservative-leaning Supreme Court will overturn the Roe v. Wade 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally. Hundreds of abortion-themed protests were held across the country on Saturday, including one that took thousands of abortion advocates to court.

The Supreme Court has allowed the Texas law to enter into force, but has not ruled on the substantive legal issues behind the charter, which bans most abortions in the state. The judges will hear the arguments on Dec. 1 about the Mississippi Act, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The court is now firmly leaning to the right after Trump appointed three conservative judges. Twelve states have passed laws that would completely ban abortion if Roe overturns.

The new abortion reference policy for family planning clinics enters into force on 8 November.

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