A demonstrator holds up a sign in support of pro-life rights outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Tries Restricting Abortion by Other Means

(The Bloomberg View) -- The Trump administration is proposing to withhold Title X family planning funding from any facility that provides abortion services or makes referrals for them. It’s a sideways attack on abortion rights, taken after abortion opponents have failed to convince either the legal system or their fellow citizens of the rightness of their cause.

Federal funding from both Title X and Medicaid is never used for abortions in the U.S., except in very rare cases involving rape or maternal life endangerment. This has been the case for more than 40 years. To help low-income women afford the service, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers use only private funding. Separately, many of these clinics also provide the kind of family planning and health services that Title X funds help pay for including birth control and screening for cancer and HIV.

Trump is using that funding as leverage to persuade the clinics to stop providing abortions altogether, apparently betting that they will care more about preserving the other women’s health services than he does.  

The administration’s proposed rule would require facilities to maintain a physical separation between abortion services and Title X-funded services, and a separate staff for each. It would also restrict how Title X-funded medical professionals can discuss abortion with patients.

In design and intent the plan recalls the efforts by conservative legislators in Texas and elsewhere to bury abortion providers in an avalanche of regulations with the goal of forcing providers to close. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those regulations, ruling that they placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The new Title X rules may not be as vulnerable to a court challenge, because they do not directly regulate abortion services. But by threatening the health-care budgets of facilities like Planned Parenthood, they nevertheless seek to shrink women’s access to abortion.

Close to half a century has passed since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision ensured a legal right to abortion. For years, consistent majorities of Americans have said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Only a small minority believes abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

Meantime, abortions have declined significantly. One reason for the decline is the widespread use of contraceptives, which would be undermined by this assault on Title X funding.

Perhaps the day will come when anti-abortion forces convince their fellow Americans to legally abandon abortion rights. Until then, they should continue their advocacy without placing women’s health in jeopardy.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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