Maryland passes countermeasure to Trump family-planning rule

 

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Moving to counter Trump administration attempts to restrict abortion, the Maryland legislature has become the first in the country to pass a bill that would reject federal money for family planning services if clinics can't make abortion referral as part of their services.

 

The rule proposed by President Donald Trump would prohibit family planning clinics funded by the program from making abortion referrals. Critics denounce that as a "gag rule." The Maryland measure would prevent the state's health department from accepting Title X money if it's conditioned on excluding family planning providers and medically approved services. Other Democratic-leaning states, such as Washington and Oregon, have indicated they would leave the program if the rule takes effect.

 

The vote in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, comes as Republican-leaning states have been working to start new legal battles that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Alabama, for example, recently introduced legislation that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony unless the mother's health is in jeopardy.

Kentucky and Mississippi have approved bans on abortion once the fetal heartbeat is detected, which happens as soon as the sixth week of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia and South Carolina, could enact similar bans.

 

The Maryland Senate voted 28-16 on Wednesday for a bill that builds on a 2017 state law to protect funding for Planned Parenthood that has been threatened by opposition to abortion from some Republicans in Congress and state legislatures. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whose spokesman said the governor would review the bill before deciding whether to sign it.

 

"Maryland is very fortunate that our legislators safeguard a woman's right to access family planning services," said Karen Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. "Our state has to step in far too often to fulfill the responsibility of the federal government."

 

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, a Republican who voted against the bill, said it was bad policy, because it would prevent federal money from flowing into the state that could help faith-based organizations provide health services.

 

"It protects Title X health care providers so they are not required to choose between participating in the program and violating their own consciences by providing abortion counseling and referrals, and that's really what's at the heart of this," Simonaire said of the administration's rule change.

 

The Title X program, enacted in 1970, makes family planning services available to low-income individuals for free or at low cost.

 

Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat who supported the bill, said no organizations are being shut out, because they can apply directly to the federal government for funding.

"It is our policy that family planning should be allowed to discuss the full range of family planning, which is what you can do at the organizations that we support through the state," Young said. "If we were to accept these funds, it would be going against our state policy of full planning."

 

The state would fund Maryland's Family Planning Program at the same level as the previous year. Maryland approved legislation in 2017 that created a state-funded family planning program in the event of changes at the federal level. Hogan did not veto the bill, but it became law without his signature.

 

Maryland recently joined more than a dozen states that have filed lawsuits against the administration over the rule.

 

Religious conservatives and abortion opponents contend that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the U.S.

 

Groups such as National Right to Life Committee, an organization that opposes abortion, have praised the Trump administration rule, saying it does not cut funding, but "merely ensures that health facilities receiving Title X funds do not perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning."

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