The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — long regarded as a liberal body, though President Trump appointees have started to tilt the balance — lifted preliminary injunctions against the rules issued by lower courts in cases from three different states.
The court cited similar rules adopted by the Reagan administration that had been approved by the Supreme Court.
“In light of Supreme Court approval of the 1988 regulations and our broad deference to agencies’ interpretations of the statutes they are charged with implementing, plaintiffs’ legal challenges to the 2019 rule fail,” Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote in the court’s opinion. “Accordingly, we vacate the injunctions entered by the district courts and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Title X was first enacted in 1970, prohibiting government grant money from being “used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” The 1988 regulations referred to by the court included programs that merely provided counseling or referrals for abortion for family-planning purposes. Those rules were approved by the Supreme Court in 1991.
In 2000, new regulations were more lax. But in 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services adopted regulations similar to the 1988 rule — withdrawing funding from any medical facility that provides abortions, abortion counseling or abortion referrals. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling noted that the Trump administration’s regulations were “less restrictive” than the 1988 ones in that “a counselor providing nondirective pregnancy counseling ‘may discuss abortion’ so long as ‘the counselor neither refers for, nor encourages, abortion.'”
A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit had previously lifted the injunctions, but the full circuit court — composed of a majority of Democrat-appointed judges — reviewed the case after abortion-rights groups fought the previous decision.
“We are pleased by the en banc Ninth Circuit’s decision upholding HHS’s rule forbidding the use of taxpayer money to subsidize abortion through Title X grants,” Justice Department spokesperson Mollie Timmons said in a statement. “Congress has long prohibited the use of Title X funds in programs where abortion is a method of family planning and HHS’s recent rule makes that longstanding prohibition a reality. We look forward to continuing to defend this vital rule against all challenges.”
Xavier Becerra, attorney general of California, one of the states that sued over the regulations, said the Ninth Circuit’s ruling was “troubling” in a statement issued after the opinion was handed down.
“Leaving women in the dark about their healthcare and restricting doctors from providing candid advice is simply not in the best interest of public health,” he said. “In California, we will continue to fight for comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including safe and legal abortion.”
The administration’s regulations will remain in effect as the cases continue in the federal district courts.