James leads effort to undo Trump era health care rule

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York, U.S., June 11, 2019.
REUTERS / Mike Segar/ File

New York Attorney General, Letitia James on Monday, May 17 continued her fight to protect the health care and reproductive rights of patients across New York and the rest of the nation.

She co-led a coalition of 23 attorneys general in sending a comment letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), applauding the agency’s proposed rule to undo what she characterized as the “harmful, Trump era Title X gag rule.”

The new, proposed HHS rule — introduced by the Biden-Harris administration — will rectify many of the harms the 2019 rule caused women, those who live in rural areas, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“This new, proposed rule from the Biden-Harris administration underscores its commitment to protecting reproductive rights of patients across the nation, as well as ensuring access to health care of so many of our country’s underserved communities,” James said.

“The Trump Administration’s Title X ‘gag rule’ was a war on reproductive freedom and prevented more than 1 million people across the country from obtaining access to quality, affordable health coverage,” she said. “And as we continue to battle COVID-19, access to health care has never been more vital.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Biden-Harris administration to undo all the harms of the gag rule and expand health coverage for all,” she added.

James noted that the Title X program was created to fund not only family planning counseling and access to various contraceptive methods but also critical screenings for high blood pressure, anemia, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as both cervical and breast cancer.

But, in 2019, she said the Trump administration’s HHS issued its gag rule that imposed major changes on the Title X program, “which led to a dramatic loss of Title X providers nationwide.”

“In fact, since the 2019 rule took effect, the Title X program has lost more than 1,200 clinics nationwide,” the New York Attorney General said. “Due to this loss of providers, the number of clients served by the program dropped by 60 percent from 2018 to 2020. As a result, low-income, uninsured, and racial and ethnic minorities’ access to Title X family planning services has decreased.”

James said HHS’s new rule would put the Title X program back on track to providing underserved communities, “with quality and accessible medical care.”

For example, she said the rule would: Allow Title X clinics to provide a referral for an abortion, if requested by a patient, and share full information with patients about their reproductive health care choices; remove the requirement that pregnant patients be provided referrals for prenatal care, even when not requested by the patient; and remove the current required physical and financial separation of Title X funded services from abortion care.

In March 2019, James co-led a coalition of 21 attorneys general in challenging the Trump administration regulation that threatens essential services provided under federal Title X funding.

James’ lawsuit eventually landed in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the Trump era rule.

James then co-led the coalition, which California later joined, in October 2020, in filing a petition that asked the US Supreme Court to hear the case.

Separately, in May 2020, James, as part of another coalition of 19 attorneys general, filed an amicus brief in a different lawsuit, brought by the City of Baltimore, against the Trump administration’s Title X rule.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down the rule, and the Trump administration filed its own petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

In March 2021, the coalitions in both cases joined with the Biden-Harris administration to ask the Supreme Court to dismiss both cases, while the current administration acts to rescind and replace the rule.

The court, on Monday, entered the order to dismiss both cases, and denied efforts by additional parties to step in and defend the gag rule.

In Monday’s letter — co-led with California Attorney General Rob Bonta — James and the coalition of attorneys general supported HHS’s decision to largely readopt the Title X regulations that took effect in 2000 with revisions that would ensure access to “equitable, affordable, client-centered, quality family planning services”, including those that advance health equity and reduce barriers to care and health disparities among underserved communities.

Joining James and Bonta in sending Monday’s letter to HHS were the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

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