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Did the Ninth Circuit Just Pave the Way for Trump to Defund Planned Parenthood?

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18:  A sign hangs above a Planned Parenthood clinic on May 18, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Trump administration is expected to announce a plan for massive funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and other taxpayer-backed abortion providers by reinstating a Reagan-era rule that prohibits federal funding from going to clinics that discuss abortion with women or that share space with abortion providers.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

A recent ruling from a conservative panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is making big headlines over what it could mean for Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that counsel pregnant women.

The Ninth Circuit panel issued a stay pending appeal to the injunctions ordered by the district courts preventing a recent code amendment from taking effect. That code section, in short, would prevent federally funded family planning services from referring pregnant women to abortion providers. It would also restrict how those services could operate if the entity itself provides abortion services.

Gagging Doctors

The rule that the Ninth Circuit panel ordered should take effect, called the domestic gag rule, prevents clinics receiving federal funds from sharing space or facilities with abortion providers. It also imposes restrictions on how pregnant women can be counseled regarding family planning, particularly when it comes to abortion. In short, referrals to abortion providers are no longer allowed.

Planned Parenthood, which has long been an advocate for those who are underserved when it comes health care, has vowed to fight the recent decision, stating that the organization will not allow the government to control how their doctors advise their patients.

Judging Doctors

Significantly, the panel decision seems to downplay the fact that the law interferes with how doctors counsel patients, explaining that the Title X funding the clinics receive is not intended to pay for medical services, but rather just pre-pregnancy family services. The panel further explained that when a pregnant woman goes to one of these Title X funded clinics that "does not provide abortion counseling or referral [it] leaves her in no different position than she would have been if the Government had not enacted Title X." This seems to ignore the fact that the pregnant woman has now been counseled by a doctor who could not provide her with all her options, and thus might be misinformed or have to pay for another visit to a doctor (in both time and money).

Additionally, and perhaps more curiously, the panel seems to sidestep the question of whether the new rule conflicts with medical ethics, by tying the hands of doctors counseling women.

It is expected that the panel decision will be appealed immediately, either to the en banc Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court.

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