A federal judge on Thursday blocked arule that would have restricted some health clinics — including Planned Parenthood — from referring patients to abortion providers. The proposed changes were set to go into effect next week.
Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District of Washington orally issued an injunction to temporarily halt controversial changes proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services to Title X, the federal program that provides birth control, cancer screenings, and other reproductive health related services to low-income women.
"The potential harm of the domestic gag rule is enormous," said Kinsey Hasstedt, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization, in a statement. "We are relieved the court has recognized the potentially devastating harms of the domestic gag rule and halted its implementation."
In a tweet, the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the decision a "major victory" and said the injuction would be applied nationally.
In February, the agency issued a 312-page filing announcing sweeping changes to the program, writing that "none of the funds appropriated for Title X may be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning." Planned Parenthood and other recipients of Title X funds would also be required to physically separate facilities that provide abortion.
When it was proposed, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Dr. Leana Wen called the changes "unconscionable and unethical."
"This rule compromises the oath that I took to serve patients and help them with making the best decision for their own health," Wen wrote in a statement in February. "Patients expect their doctors to speak honestly with them, to answer their questions, to help them in their time of need."
Since Title X was enacted in 1970, its funds have always been prohibited from paying for abortion services. While health clinics that provide abortions are eligible for the funds, the specific Title X money isn't allowed to go toward anything related to providing the procedure.
The full written injunction is expected to come out early next week, said a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.
Washington's case is one of 21 that have challenged the changes proposed to Title X funding. On Tuesday evening, a judge in Oregon said heas well, calling the proposal a "ham-fisted approach to public policy." He said he would issue a written opinion to clarify the scope of his decision, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson.