Oregon Leads National Lawsuit Challenging New Title X “Gag Rule”

March 4, 2019
• Posted in

Today, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced they are leading a national lawsuit with New York Attorney General Letitia James challenging the constitutionality of a new rule that will significantly restrict access to reproductive health services and information for women and families. The complaint will be filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon with 21 State Attorneys General joining the lawsuit with Governor Brown and Attorney General Rosenblum.

The rule relates to funding for Title X, the only federal grant program that funds family planning programs to help patients access contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, well-woman exams, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and other related health services. Informally, opponents of the new rule are referring to it as a “gag rule” because it will place unlawful and unethical restrictions on health care professionals by prohibiting them from providing unbiased information about and referrals for abortion services even if specifically requested by the patient.

“Everyone deserves the ability make their own decisions about their health care,” said Governor Brown. “This is yet another attack from the Trump Administration on women and families, and it is appalling that the federal government wants to rob individuals of the right to complete medical information and full access to the critical health care services they rely on. I will continue to fight back against this administration as they continue to undermine health care for those who need it most.”

“What this new rule means is that providers in Oregon who receive Title X funding will have to decide whether they will refuse the funding or ‘cave’ to the requirements of this new rule. Neither is a good or fair option for women and families who often have no other access to medical care,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “I’m proud that Oregon is taking the lead in this important lawsuit. Oregonians have voted time and time again to support women’s reproductive health freedoms.”

Under the new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, providers in any clinic that receives Title X funding will be barred from referring a patient for an abortion (even if she requests that information), and in many circumstances even discussing an abortion with a patient. By law, Title X funding has never been used to fund  abortions, but the new rule goes well beyond what the federal statutes require and is inconsistent with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The new rule also mandates a referral for prenatal care for every pregnant patient, regardless of the needs or the wishes of the patient.

In addition to the “gag rule,” the new rule will mean that many providers who receive Title X funds will need to change many of their operational systems in order to receive funding because the rule requires unnecessary physical and financial separation between services funded by the government and any organization that conducts any activities relating to abortions, including referring patients to other providers for abortion. For example, health clinics will need to open another location, or create a separate entrance for patients, have separate examination rooms, hire separate personnel to work at separate workstations, maintain a separate phone number and website, and have separate electronic medical systems in order to continue to accept Title X funds.

In 2017, Oregon’s Title X clinics served 37,012 patients, and last fiscal year Oregon received over $3 million in Title X funds. Oregon has received funding for Title X services in Oregon since 1970, and Title X clinics are located in almost every county in Oregon. The program is administered by the Oregon Health Authority’s Reproductive Health Program. Two-thirds of the patients served at Oregon’s Title X clinics are at, or below, 100 percent of the federal poverty level and 95 percent were below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Joining Oregon in the lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm. The Oregon DOJ advocates for and protects all Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.