Abortion rights activists are alarmed after the Trump administration released the language of a proposed rule on federal family planning funding.

Health officials said they were proposing to strip away a current mandate. It wouldn’t be a gag rule, they emphasized, but it still requires organizations that receive Title X funding to counsel women about abortion and provide them with referrals to abortion services. Under the new rules, a provider wouldn’t have to talk about abortion at all.

Responses

“This is one of the largest-scale and most dangerous attacks we’ve seen on women’s rights and reproductive health care in this country. This policy is straight out of the Handmaid’s Tale — yet, it’s taking effect in America in 2018,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that referenced Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel.

Georgeanne Usova, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the policy is “putting the health and lives of countless people at risk in service of this administration’s extreme antiabortion agenda.”

The new rule

The Department of Health and Human Services posted the full proposed rule on its website on Tuesday.

Page 119 states that “A Title X project may not perform, promote, refer for, or support, abortion as a method of family planning, nor take any other affirmative action to assist a patient to secure such an abortion.”

The one exception is if a woman “clearly states that she has already decided to have an abortion.” In this situation, a doctor or other provider should provide “a list of licensed, qualified comprehensive health service providers (some, but not all, of which also provide abortion, in addition to comprehensive prenatal care.)”

So is it or isn’t it a “gag rule”?

“Contrary to recent media reports,” the White House said in a statement that day, “HHS’s proposal does not include the so-called ‘gag rule’ on counseling about abortion.” The statement contrasted the new rule with a Reagan administration policy in 1988 that banned any mention of abortion.

HHS’s view is that there is a difference between counseling and referrals. Counseling — as long as it is not “directive” or expressing an opinion — is allowed. It stated that referrals for abortion are, “by definition, directive” and, therefore, not allowed under its new interpretation of a 2000 regulation that pregnancy counseling be nondirective.

Planned Parenthood, which serves about 41 percent of the patients who receive services through Title X, and other groups that support abortion rights, beg to differ. On Wednesday evening, Planned Parenthood held a #NoGagRule campaign that included a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol.

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