A federal judge in Washington state Thursday blocked nationwide enforcement of rules enacted by the Trump administration that could strip federal funding from health care providers who refer patients to have an abortion.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima federal court came two days after a federal judge in Portland, Ore., indicated he would block at least some of the rule changes, which were due to take effect May 3.
The suit challenging the changes was brought against the Department of Health and Human Services by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and abortion rights groups including Planned Parenthood. Opponents of the rule changes described them as a transparent attack on Planned Parenthood and said they would curb access to care such as contraception and breast and cervical cancer screening for millions of low-income people.
"Today’s ruling ensures that clinics across the nation can remain open and continue to provide quality, unbiased healthcare to women," Ferguson said in a statement. "Trump’s 'gag rule' would have jeopardized healthcare access to women across the country. Title X clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, provide essential services – now they can keep serving women while we continue to fight to keep the federal government out of the exam room."
The planned changes to the federal Title X family planning program, which was created in 1970 and serves 4 million patients, would prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers as well as banning abortion referrals by taxpayer-funded clinics. 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 subsidize abortion providers indirectly.
"This Administration has made clear that we will protect life at all stages, and this rule is another important step," White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in response to the ruling.
The Washington state lawsuit said the changes would affect more than 90,000 Title X patients in the state and would force 90 percent of the medical professionals providing abortion and other family planning services to either find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.
"All over the country, there are Title X providers looking at their patient schedules and wondering what they were going to do," said Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which sued. "Now we know that everyone can continue to do their care as they have been doing for the past 50 years."
The lawsuit also claimed that the rule changes violated provisions of ObamaCare, which protects providers and patients from government interference in the health care relationship, and a federal law that requires doctors to provide information about abortion and prenatal care to patients in an unbiased manner. Ferguson also alleged the changes violated the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 by contradicting Title X regulations without sufficient justification and violated doctors' rights to free speech and women's rights to abortions under Roe v. Wade.
Fox News' Bill Mears, Matt Leach and The Associated Press contributed to this report.