A U.S. judge in Oregon said Tuesday he intends to at least partially block a rule change by President Donald Trump's administration that could cut off federal funding for providers who refer patients for an abortion, though the scope of his decision remains to be seen.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane made the comments after more than three hours of arguments in a lawsuit brought by 20 states and the District of Columbia, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported . The states say the rule change, due to take effect May 3, is a transparent attack on Planned Parenthood and a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits "unreasonable barriers to the ability of individuals to obtain appropriate medical care."
"At the heart of these rules is an arrogant assumption that the government is better suited to direct women's health care than their providers," Oregon Public Broadcasting quoted the judge as saying.
McShane said he needs more time to decide whether he will issue a national injunction or a more limited one blocking the policy from taking effect. The judge said he's reluctant to set national health care policy and would describe the scope of his injunction in a written opinion soon.
"We will need to see what the final ruling says," Oregon Justice Department spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said in an email. "We are pleased with the decision."
Under the new policy, health care providers that receive federal funding would be barred from referring patients for an abortion. Programs that receive the money would also have to be in a separate physical space from facilities where abortion is performed.
The rule change announced early this year concerns Title X, a family planning program created in 1970 which serves roughly 4 million low-income Americans every year. Clinics that receive money under Title X provide a wide array of services, including birth control and screening for diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. Religious conservatives and abortion opponents have long complained that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize abortion providers.
"Title X grant funds are a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers," Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told the judge. "Put simply, this is an attempt to politicize what has been a successful, non-political public health program for 50 years."
U.S. Justice Department lawyer Andrew M. Bernie said there was nothing in the administrative record to suggest the change was politically motivated.
But the judge was not swayed. McShane suggested it would be "insane" for a man to go to his doctor seeking a vasectomy, only to be referred to a fertility clinic.
Several other lawsuits have also challenged the new policy. California and Washington have sued separately; arguments in the latter case are scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Yakima.