U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, appointed by President Trump last fall, heard arguments Wednesday about a new rule that goes into effect next week banning doctors and nurses at federally-funded medical facilities from talking about abortion.
“It does this by severely restricting how doctors can speak about abortion,” said Emily Nestler, a Center for Reproductive Rights attorney. “It prevents them from referring patients out for abortion services or really having any meaningful discussions with their patients about abortions at all.”
The new changes to the Title X program, first proposed by the Trump administration a year ago, were finalized in February. Within a week, Center for Reproductive Rights lawyers, representing Maine Family Planning, sued the federal Department of Health and Human Services to stop their implementation.
Maine Family Planning -- funded in part by Title X funds – has 18 healthcare clinics for low-income residents providing family planning, primary care and abortion services.
“If we were to reject the Title X funds as a result of the gag order, we'd be closing at least 11 clinics of our 18. Four thousand to 8,000 woman would lose services,” said George Hill, Maine Family Planning president.
“If we accepted the funding, abortion access on the other side would basically be foreclosed on at 17 of our 18 sites,” Hill added later.
Hill said if that were to happen, it would result in residents from northern Maine having to travel to Bangor or Portland for services.
“What this rule does is basically punish them because they also provide abortion services,” Nestler said.
Justice Department attorney Brinton Lucas argued, "all it is doing is setting restrictions on government funds." The Maine Christian Civic League declined to comment on the case.
“In addition, the rule requires complete separation of abortion services from family planning services,” Nestler said. “Notwithstanding the fact that for decades they have been allowed to be co-located.”
The new rule regarding talking about abortion with patients is scheduled to go into effect on May 3. The separation of the physical locations would be required by next year.
A federal judge in Oregon announced Tuesday he will issue a preliminary injunction. The scope of that decision is not yet known, Nestler said. The Maine case asks for a nation-wide ruling.
Judge Walker said he'll have his decision in the next couple days.