"States are a critical backstop at a time when we have the Trump-Pence administration stripping away women's health and rights and when we cannot depend on the Supreme Court," said Dr. Leana Wen. She spoke in an interview ahead of a keynote speech she's scheduled to give in Baltimore this week about an administration proposal to prohibit family planning clinics funded by the government's Title X program from making abortion referrals. Opponents are calling it a "gag rule."
The rule was set to take effect next week, but a federal judge said late Tuesday he would issue a preliminary injunction to block the rule from taking effect, after a lawsuit was filed by attorneys general in 20 mostly Democrat-controlled states, including Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
"With all our champions and supporters, this is the time to be going on the offensive where we can," said Wen, a physician who is Baltimore's former health commissioner. Wen cited Maryland as a leader among states opposing the rule. Earlier this month, Maryland became the first state to pass a measure that would end participation in the program if the rule takes effect. Maryland's legislature is controlled by Democrats, and the bill now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. A Hogan spokesman says the governor will review the bill when it officially reaches his desk. A Maryland law from 2017 would provide state funds for family planning.
The Democrat-controlled Massachusetts House and Senate this month also approved state money to offset the potential loss of federal funding due to the rule change, a measure signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Other blue states also are considering whether to opt out. Meanwhile, Republican-leaning states have been working to start new legal battles that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
Alabama has introduced legislation that would make performing an abortion at any state of pregnancy a felony unless the mother's health is in jeopardy. Kentucky and Mississippi have approved bans on abortion once the fetal heartbeat is detected, which happens as soon as the sixth week of pregnancy.
On Monday, the Tennessee General Assembly approved a proposal that would effectively outlaw most abortions in that state, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Religious conservatives and abortion opponents argue that Title X funding has been used to indirectly subsidize Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the nation. They have welcomed the president's rule change.
Title X family planning clinics get federal funds to provide people with comprehensive family planning and preventative health services, according to a Health Resources & Services Administration website.
Wen said Title X funding is not used for abortions. The funding is used to provide low-income people with affordable birth control, as well as primary and preventive care, including cancer screenings and HIV tests. She said it would not be acceptable in any other medical field for doctors not to provide patients with full medical information.
"This is about restricting the practice of medicine," Wen said. "It's about politicians making decisions for doctors and for patients. It's about politicians restricting the ability of doctors to give our patients full and accurate medical information."
Planned Parenthood, which serves 1.6 million of the 4 million women who get care through Title X, has said it will leave the program if the rule is implemented.