Trump abortion referral 'gag rule' survives demands for emergency halt

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected emergency bids to temporarily set aside its recent decision allowing the Trump administration to enforce a “gag rule” that could strip Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of federal funding for family planning.

FILE PHOTO: Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/File Photo

By a 7-4 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals let stand its June 20 decision lifting injunctions blocking enforcement of the rule, which makes clinics ineligible for Title X family planning funds if they provide abortion referrals.

An emergency stay had been sought by some abortion rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood, and by 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

California, Oregon and Washington, which had won the injunctions in lower courts, want the appeals court to revisit its decision, and the court is doing so on an expedited basis.

Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the order “devastating” to people who rely on Title X for healthcare, and said the rule lets the government “censor our doctors and nurses from doing their jobs.”

All seven judges in Thursday’s majority were appointed by Republican presidents, including two by Donald Trump, while the four dissenters were appointed by Democratic presidents. All three judges on the original panel are Republican appointees.

Announced in February, the rule largely restored a rule that had been created in 1988 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, only to be suspended by the Clinton administration in 1993.

The rule was intended to help Trump fulfill his 2016 campaign pledge to end federal support for Planned Parenthood, which receives an estimated one-fifth of all Title X funds.

According to the June 20 decision, the rule was a “reasonable interpretation” of Title X, and supported the government’s “important policy interest” in ensuring that taxpayer dollars not fund or subsidize abortions.

Critics said enforcing the rule would cause irreparable harm by keeping clinics from providing critical healthcare, including non-abortion services, especially to poor people and minorities.

While the 9th Circuit is widely considered among the most liberal federal appeals courts, Trump has appointed six of its judges and won Senate confirmation for a seventh. The White House has made seating conservative federal judges a priority.

The cases in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals include California v Azar et al, No. 19-15974; Oregon et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35386; and Washington et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35394.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Susan Thomas and Dan Grebler