Judge Dismisses Challenge to Trump Administration's Abortion Title X Guidance

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June 12, 2020

A federal judge dismissed a Maine family-planning organization's lawsuit that challenged the Trump administration's guidance prohibiting abortion referrals as a method of family planning.

District Judge Lance Walker cited the language of the guidance, which prohibits abortion referrals but allows for "nondirective" counseling of abortion services, as the reasoning for his dismissal.

Walker, a Trump administration appointee, wrote this week that the guidance "authorizes nondirective counseling, including abortion counseling; it only prohibits an abortion referral." Because the guidance does not explicitly prohibit abortion providers from participating in the Title X program, he ruled it did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

Maine Family Planning, the sole family-planning service in the state, argued it was forced out of the Title X program because the new guidance violated its free speech rights and harmed the ability of patients to obtain abortions.

The Title X program requires medical clinics to maintain physical and financial separation between abortion facilities, which are not eligible for federal aid, and family-planning clinics that are allowed to receive federal funding.

Walker drew heavily on precedent from the 1991 Supreme Court case Rust v. Sullivan. In that decision, the Court held that Congress could condition federal funding on whether or not an organization recommended abortion as a family-planning method. The Court decided the case by a 5-4 majority in the face of free speech objections from some physicians and abortion clinics.

A senior staff attorney representing Maine Family Planning told the Bangor Daily News that the organization will consider appealing the decision.

Walker's dismissal of the lawsuit comes after he initially declined to prevent the guidance from going into effect last summer.

Along with Planned Parenthood, Maine Family Planning withdrew from Title X funding last summer after the administration's new guidance. The organization had brought the legal challenge against the guidance in March of last year.

Maine Family Planning wrote in an op-ed explaining its decision that the organization did not want to operate under a "gag rule."

"We maintain the beliefs put forth in our motions, namely that the rule is unconstitutional and would inflict harm on Mainers by wreaking havoc on the statewide reproductive health network," the organization said.

Maine Family Planning did not respond to a request for comment.

Pro-life activists praised Judge Walker's decision.

"A majority of Americans consistently say they don't want to fund abortions with their taxes," March for Life president Tom McClusky said. "It is regrettable that pro-abortion advocates in Maine ignored both legal precedent and the wishes of most Americans, instead wasting valuable court time and public dollars in pursuit of their failing agenda."

"Maine Family Planning’s assertion that the Protect Life Rule violates their free speech is simply false," said Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List. "On the other hand, to force pro-life American taxpayers to fund abortion violates their deeply held beliefs, and goes against the core values upon which our nation was founded."