A federal judge on Thursday issued a nationwide injunction temporarily blocking a controversial Trump administration rule that would bar organizations that provide abortion referrals from receiving federal family planning money.
Judge Stanley A. Bastian of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington State said in his order that the rule would cause family planning clinics “to face a Hobson’s choice that harms patients as well as the providers.”
Judge Bastian wrote that the plaintiffs in the case had “submitted substantial evidence of harm” if the administration’s rule were to take effect. “Yet,” he wrote, “the government’s response in this case is dismissive, speculative and not based on any evidence presented in the record before this court.”
The judge’s ruling granted an immediate preliminary injunction, preventing the imposition of the Trump administration rule, which was scheduled to take effect on May 3.
“He concurred with all of our legal arguments and he rejected all of the administration’s arguments,” said Bob Ferguson, Washington’s attorney general, who had filed the case along with the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents publicly funded family planning providers. “The judge stated from the bench that we met our very high burden to have a national injunction granted.”
He said his office would return to court to ask the judge to make the injunction permanent.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said Thursday night that a response would be forthcoming. It is expected that the administration will appeal.
The rule, announced in February, would deny clinics across the country millions of dollars from the federal family planning program called Title X. Title X provides $286 million for programs that provide services like birth control, screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer, and screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. These programs serve about four million patients each year, many of them poor, at more than 4,000 clinics.
The rule was partly seen as an attack on Planned Parenthood, which operates about 40 percent of those clinics, is the only provider in some communities, and receives nearly $60 million in Title X funding each year.
While the rule would not prevent clinics from talking to patients about abortion, it would prevent them from informing patients where they could obtain the procedure. And it would lift a requirement that clinics counsel women on all reproductive options, including abortion, a change that was expected to make anti-abortion and faith-based providers eligible for funding.
In addition, while organizations receiving Title X money could still perform abortions, they would have to do so in a separate facility from their other operations, which could raise their costs significantly, some providers said.
The case filed in Washington State was one of several legal challenges to the Trump administration rule, including cases in California and Maine.
This week, in a case filed by attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia, along with Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, a federal judge in Oregon said that he would issue a preliminary injunction, but that his order would not be national in scope.
In that case, Judge Michael J. McShane of United States District Court said he would detail the terms of his injunction soon. He called the Trump administration rule an “arrogant assumption” on the part of the federal government and a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy.”
In the Washington case, Mr. Ferguson said his office argued that the Trump administration rule violated four federal statutes, including the Affordable Care Act, the law establishing Title X, and the Administrative Procedure Act. He said among those violations was that the rule “limited access to care” and “what doctors can say to their patients, putting politicians in the room in place of the doctors.”
Judge Bastian wrote that the “harmful consequences” would “uniquely impact rural and uninsured patients.”
Clare Coleman, president and chief executive of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, called the ruling “a tremendous public health victory and a welcome reprieve for our members in all 50 states and territories that serve more than 93 percent of Title X patients.”