U.S. federal judge to block Trump's new abortion rule: media, activists

(Reuters) - A federal judge in the U.S. state of Oregon will block a move by the Trump administration to cut off federal money to family planning clinics that offer abortion or refer women to abortion providers, activists and media reports said late on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: An abortion rights activist holds up a sign as marchers take part in the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President Donald Trump’s new Title X rule, set to take effect in May, would halt government funds for Planned Parenthood clinics that subsidize birth control for low-income women, and other clinics that provide abortions.

Critics say the plan is aimed at fulfilling Trump’s campaign pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions and other health services for women.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association, along with several other parties, sued in federal court in Oregon to halt the new rule.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said late on Tuesday that he will grant a preliminary injunction against the new federal restrictions, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

It was unclear when the ruling would be made formal and how wide-sweeping it would be.

The plaintiffs had sought a national injunction, but Judge McShane said he is reluctant to set national health care policy, the newspaper reported.

The U.S. Justice Department, which opposed the injunction in court, asked that it only apply to the plaintiffs in this case, the Oregonian said.

McShane said from the bench that the so-called “gag rule” would prevent doctors from doing their jobs, media reports said.

The U.S. Justice Department was not available for comment on Wednesday.

Congress provided $286 million in Title X grants in 2017 to Planned Parenthood and other health centers to provide birth control, screening for diseases and cancer, and other reproductive counseling to low-income women.

The funding cannot be used for abortions, but abortion opponents have long complained that the money subsidizes Planned Parenthood itself.

The American Medical Association applauded the proposed injunction.

“Judge McShane got it exactly right when he called the new Title X rule a ‘ham-fisted’ approach to health care,” AMA President Barbara McAneny said in a statement.

“The judge repeatedly asked how the new gag rule would improve health outcomes. The government was unable to answer,” she added.

Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called it a victory for patients and doctors.

But she added in a statement “this relief is preliminary and we will continue to fight the Trump-Pence administration in court and in Congress to ensure our patients’ health.”

Similar legal challenges are pending in other federal courts, including one brought by California, according to media reports.

Reporting by Rich McKay; editing by Darren Schuettler