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California sues Trump administration over rules restricting abortion access

California sues Trump administration over rules restricting abortion access
California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra is filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a new rule that he says limits access to abortion. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Leading what is expected to be a national battle over the issue, California on Monday sued the Trump administration seeking to block a new regulation that restricts access to abortion and other family-planning services.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Northern California against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the first volley of what is expected to be a barrage of litigation by states, family-planning groups and others challenging restrictions prohibiting clinics that receive federal family-planning money from offering abortions or referring women to abortion services. Oregon’s attorney general said her state and 20 others, including New York, plan to file a lawsuit on Tuesday. Washington officials said last week that they plan to sue.

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The filing seeks an injunction against the rules adopted for Title X of the Public Health Service Act, the federally funded program devoted to family planning.

“The Trump-Pence administration has doubled down on its attacks on women’s health,” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said. “This illegal Title X rule denies patients access to critical healthcare services and prevents doctors from providing comprehensive and accurate information about medical care.”

The rule affects some 4 million mostly low-income people nationwide, Becerra said.

California has the nation’s largest Title X program, serving some 1 million patients annually — more than 25% of all Title X patients nationwide.

The lawsuit says the new rule will affect programs funded through Essential Access Health, including services provided by Planned Parenthood affiliates.

In seeking an injunction, the state argues that the federal agency has exceeded the scope of its statutory authority and acted in a manner that is arbitrary and a violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act and the U.S. Constitution.

“The rule undermines clinically established standards of care, interferes with the patient-provider relationship, and contradicts a core purpose of the Title X program,” the lawsuit says. “This rule will deprive Californians of access to needed reproductive care and cause harm to public health in California.”

The Title X program helped women in California avoid an estimated 822,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2015, which would have resulted in 387,000 unplanned births and 278,000 abortions, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was criticized by David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, who said the rule is a reasonable attempt to enforce existing law.

“They are to be expected,” he said of the lawsuits being filed by states. “These are all pro-abortion Democratic administrations.”

The federal rule change is also supported by Wynette Sills, director of Californians for Life.

“Abortion is not family planning,” Sills said in a statement. “We do not plan our families by killing our children. This Title X update does not diminish Family Planning funding by a single dime, but will redirect taxpayer dollars to non-killing Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers.”

Becerra was joined at the Capitol on Monday in announcing the lawsuit by some 20 women lawmakers, including Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), as well as the governor’s wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

“This gag rule is an attack on women everywhere,” Siebel Newsom said.

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Atkins said the restriction will hinder operations by more than 350 clinics in California, and is “immoral,” while Becerra called the rule change part of a “war on women,” by the Trump administration.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s sabotage of Title X services that millions of women across our nation rely on is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous to women’s health,” Becerra said. “President Trump treats women and their care as if this were 1920, not 2019.”

The lawsuit is California’s 47th legal challenge to the Trump administration and its policies. Other litigation filed by Becerra has opposed federal policies on immigration, the environment, healthcare and the U.S. census.

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