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Trump administration will pull funds from groups that perform abortions or provide referrals

The Trump administration is expected to announce May 18 that it will pull funds from groups that perform or provide referrals for abortions. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration is proposing to bar clinics that provide abortion services or referrals from receiving federal family-planning funds, a far-reaching move that would deprive Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centers of millions of dollars a year.

The proposal would require a “bright line” of physical and financial separation between clinics that receive $260 million annually in federal funding and any organization that provides abortions or referrals to abortion clinics.

The move delivers on a long-held objective of abortion opponents, who are staunch supporters of President Trump. In a statement Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it “would ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions” and that Trump “is pleased to support” it.

The president plans to unveil the proposal Tuesday in a speech before the Susan B. Anthony List, a political action committee that opposes abortion, according to two administration officials.

On Thursday, Vice President Pence hosted a dinner at his residence with conservative leaders ahead of the decision, according to one administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private event. Antiabortion groups were briefed in detail about the proposal in a conference call Friday morning.

However, the desire to preserve the public announcement for Trump’s Tuesday night speech made for an awkward rollout Friday: In addition to declining to comment publicly for most of the day, administration officials declined to distribute a final text.

The proposal largely mirrors requirements first adopted during Ronald Reagan’s presidency but never enforced. Unlike the Reagan rule, the Trump proposal would not prohibit clinics that receive federal funds from counseling clients about abortion, officials said. A senior White House official said that provision was left out to try to prevent litigation.

However, the new rule would bar grant recipients from referring women to abortion providers.

The proposal was sent Thursday to the White House budget office for an interagency review; officials said it would be several months before it could take effect. In the meantime, at least one governor, Washington’s Jay Inslee (D), and several women’s health groups say they will seek to block the rule in court.

Antiabortion activists noted that the Reagan-era rule withstood a Supreme Court challenge and said they were confident the Trump rule also would withstand legal scrutiny.

“Our understanding of the proposed regulation that the administration will put forward . . . is entirely consistent with the Supreme Court precedent in separating abortion from the Title X family-planning program,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council.

Jeanne F. Mancini, president of the antiabortion group March for Life, praised the administration in a statement Friday.

“This money will now be redirected to comprehensive family health and planning centers that don’t perform abortions and understand that abortion is not health care,” Mancini said. “The pro-life grass roots will be pleased to see President Trump deliver on yet another pro-life promise.”

In a call Friday with reporters, Planned Parenthood’s leaders characterized the new rule as an attack on women’s right to abortion that could compromise access to basic health care.

“It’s completely outrageous that a small group of people’s ideological views are being pressed through these government agencies onto women’s health care across the country,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president.

The proposal makes good on a promise Trump has repeatedly made to religious leaders to adopt policies that reflect their socially conservative values. White House officials say the president often talks about the need to keep conservative evangelicals on his side, and prominent Christian leaders say they have had unprecedented access to the Trump White House.

“They know what I’m doing for the Christians, right?” one attendee said Trump remarked at a gathering of religious leaders last year.

And Trump has delivered: Since taking office, he has appointed judges with a history of opposing abortion, including Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. He revived a policy that bars groups that provide abortion referrals overseas from receiving federal funds. And he signed legislation that allows states to withhold federal money from facilities that provide abortion services.

The new proposal would affect funding for domestic clinics. Under the federal Title X program, health centers receive grants to provide basic services such as cancer screenings, birth control, screenings for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests and well-woman exams. Currently, those clinics are permitted to provide abortions using nonfederal funds.

Under the latest proposal, that would change. Clinics such as Planned Parenthood that provide abortion services or that refer women elsewhere for the procedure would no longer be eligible to receive any federal cash. Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of the 4 million patients receiving Title X care, stands to lose as much as $60 million a year.

But the new policy would have ripple effects far beyond Planned Parenthood. Susan Buchanan, chief executive of the Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, said Title X funding accounts for $550,000, or roughly 20 percent, of her annual budget. The new rule, she said, would put “us in the position of having to make a Hobbesian choice” between the 10 percent of patients who receive abortions and the rest of its clients.

Buchanan said clinics such as hers have helped Colorado dramatically reduce unwanted pregnancy by providing women with long-acting reversible contraceptives. The state’s teen birthrate dropped 50 percent between 2009 and 2014, she said; losing federal funding could jeopardize this progress.

“They’re shooting themselves in the foot, really,” she said.

The proposed rule probably will include provisions that require parental consent for minors seeking family planning services at Title X clinics in most instances, according to people briefed on the rule. Opponents of such provisions warn that they could stop girls from seeking care.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have lobbied the administration. This week, more than 200 members of Congress — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) — wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar arguing that the proposed rule “would disproportionately impact communities of color, the uninsured, and low- income individuals.” Days before, 194 Republicans urged Azar to move swiftly to revive the Reagan-era restrictions.

Even before the rule is finalized, opponents are girding for a legal battle.

“Washington has been, and will continue to be, a state that stands with women and their right to safe and legal abortion and reproductive care,” Inslee said in a statement. “If this administration insists on weaponizing the Title X program, I will work our legislative leaders to make sure that no matter what happens in D.C., every woman in Washington state has access to all the family planning and health care services she needs.”

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