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Health

New U.S. policy curbs abortion referrals

Planned Parenthood says 14,000 Iowans affected

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York August 31, 2015.   REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Friday that taxpayer-funded family planning clinics that primarily serve low-income Americans will no longer be able to refer patients for abortions, a move that will direct more money to faith-based organizations and that critics vowed to challenge.

The new regulation was announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of Title X, a government family planning program that serves about 4 million people.

The program currently subsidizes health centers such as those run by Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception, health screenings and abortions. Planned Parenthood serves about 41 percent of Title X patients and receives up to $60 million a year in federal funds for family planning services.

But in Iowa, Planned Parenthood gets no taxpayer funding. Though taxpayer money didn’t pay for abortions, the organization did provide abortions at some of its clinics in the state.

After the Iowa Legislature voted in 2017 to forego $3 million in federal funding and create its own women’s health care program without Planned Parenthood, the organization closed several clinics in the state.

Friday, after the announcement, the group said the new “gag order” would affect about 14,000 Iowans who use Title X funds to receive care at clinics in Ames, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Iowa City and Urbandale.

To continue receiving taxpayer subsidies under the program, health clinics will have to comply with the new rule.

Its key elements include “prohibiting referral for abortion as a method of family planning,” the health department said in a statement, adding that the rule “eliminates the requirement that Title X providers offer abortion counseling and referral.”

The rule also would require “clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning,” the statement said. The law already bans recipients of Title X funds from using those funds for abortions.

Conservative groups praised the move.

“We thank President Donald Trump for taking decisive action to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a group opposed to abortion rights.

But officials from New York and California immediately began talking about going to court.

“We will take legal action,” New York’s Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “These new rules are dangerous and unnecessary, and will prevent millions of Americans from obtaining the care they need and deserve.”

An Iowa law passed last year would have made referrals for abortions in the state largely pointless. The law banned most abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected — often before many women realize they are pregnant.

But a judge struck down the law as violating the state constitution, and Gov. Kim Reynolds said this week the state would not appeal.

Earlier this month, Reynolds proposed a measure that would allow women to obtain birth control pills at pharmacies without going to a clinic to get a prescription first.

Her proposal, if approved by the Legislature, would not include any drugs meant to induce an abortion.

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