The Biden administration has reversed a Trump administration rule that prevented federal tax dollars from funding family planning organizations that refer their patients to abortion counseling, drawing criticism from pro-life organizations and praise from the abortion lobby.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule, "Ensuring Access to Equitable, Affordable, Client-Centered, Quality Family Planning Services," Monday.
The rule is slated to take effect Nov. 8 and will allow "Title X providers to provide truly nondirective counseling and refer their patients for all services desired by the client, including abortion services."
The final rule rescinds a 2019 Trump administration policy labeled by critics as the "gag rule." The Trump-era regulation prevented "the use of Title X funds to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning."
Under the current rule, companies that wish to provide both abortions and Title X family planning services are required to establish a "strict physical and financial separation between abortion-related activities and Title X project activities."
Since 1970, Title X family planning clinics have received millions in federal funding to provide low-income and uninsured individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.
In a statement, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra described the new rule as "a step forward for family planning care as it aims to strengthen and restore our nation's Title X program."
"Our nation's family planning clinics play a critical role in delivering health care, and today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning includes accurate information and referrals — based on a patient's needs and direction," Becerra said.
Advocacy groups on both sides of the abortion debate weighed in on the new rule.
Pro-life activist groups were quick to condemn the Biden administration for reversing what they refer to as the "Protect Life" rule.
"Abortion is the destruction of innocent human life, not 'family planning,'" Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life lobbying organization Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement.
"The strong majority of Americans oppose using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion on demand. The Protect Life Rule respected their will, as well as the plain statutory language of Title X - yet from day one, Joe Biden and his administration have worked to pay back the abortion lobby that spent millions to elect them."
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life, agreed that "Taxpayer funds should not be used to subsidize an industry that preys on women and their unborn children."
"The vast majority of Americans believe that using taxpayer funds to pay for abortion is wrong," she said.
"Supplementing the abortion industry through taxpayer funds is offensive to tens of millions of Americans," Tobias added. "Far from uniting this nation, the Biden administration has done everything it can to divide it by facilitating abortion on demand."
Overall, abortion rights advocacy groups reacted favorably to the new rule.
Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider which backed out of the Title X program in response to the Trump administration rule, praised the Biden administration for "ending the gag rule." However, the organization suggested that the new rule does not go far enough.
In a tweet, Planned Parenthood lamented that "this new rule still allows Title X grantees to refuse to counsel pregnant patients about abortion as a health care option."
Characterizing conscience protections in the rule as "unnecessary and harmful," the abortion provider asserted that a "provider's personal beliefs shouldn't stop patients who deserve full information about health care options."
The pro-abortion research organization Guttmacher Institute issued a statement on Twitter cheering the reversal of the "Trump-era 'domestic gag rule' that devastated the #TitleX National Family Planning Program" as "a crucial step toward restoring a vital source of care for millions of people in the US!"
The new HHS rule is not the first time the Biden administration eliminated a pro-life policy implemented by the previous administration.
Shortly after taking office earlier this year, President Joe Biden rescinded the Mexico City Policy, which prevented the funding of nongovernmental organizations that promote or perform abortions overseas from receiving U.S. taxpayer dollars.
Additionally, the Biden administration's Food and Drug Administration lifted the requirement that women wishing to have chemical abortions receive the abortion pill in person.
The in-person dispensing requirement was the subject of litigation last year, as pro-choice activists argued that visiting a doctor during the coronavirus pandemic put women at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org