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Biden White House Ends Trump-Era Abortion Restrictions on Family Planning Orgs

Many groups are urging Biden to go further in his supposed “whole-of-government” response to attacks on abortion access.

Several thousand New Yorkers gather to demand legal access to abortions on October 2, 2021, in Foley Square, New York City, as part of national demonstrations against a restrictive abortion law passed in Texas.

This week, the Biden administration announced that it will end a Trump-era rule on abortion, which limited the disbursement of funds to family planning clinics that supported access to abortion.

The rule, which was implemented in 2018, regulated Title X family planning funding from the federal government. It barred health centers from receiving funds if they referred their patients to abortion clinics or advised people on how to obtain an abortion — similar to a global gag rule on abortion that Republican presidents in the past, including former President Donald Trump, have placed on family planning organizations around the world that receive aid from the U.S.

The global gag rule was rescinded early in President Joe Biden’s presidency. The end of the domestic gag rule was announced on Monday, and it will no longer be in effect by next month.

“Today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals — based on a patient’s needs and direction,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement on the reversal.

The change comes after Biden vowed last month to launch a “whole-of-government” response to restrictions on abortion access, in wake of the Supreme Court’s refusal to issue a stay on a Texas law restricting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

The Court claimed it didn’t intervene because of the strategic way in which the law is written. Instead of placing the onus of enforcement on the state, the Texas law incentivizes private citizens to sue abortion clinics or others who help a person obtain an abortion.

Although the end of the domestic gag rule is a positive development, reproductive rights activists have noted that Biden still hasn’t done enough to protect abortion rights, including addressing institutional failures that pose a threat to these rights in the immediate future.

Advocates want Biden to support filibuster abolition so that legislation codifying abortion rights can be passed in the Senate without meeting the 60-vote threshold. They also want Biden to expand the Supreme Court to address its extreme rightward shift as a result of Trump-era appointments.

“The break-glass moment is here. The consequences of the Republicans’ takeover of the Supreme Court is no longer theoretical,” said Brian Fallon, co-founder of Demand Justice, an organization that supports adding seats to the Court.

Of course, the right to access an abortion — a completely safe and routine medical procedure that can have a vastly beneficial impact on a person’s life — should not be up for debate. Though GOP lawmakers in several states are looking toward the Texas law as model for restricting abortion access, polling results indicate that the majority of U.S. voters disagree with such measures.

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll published this week, just 32 percent of Americans want abortions limited after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, or when cardiac activity in an embryo is first detected. Fifty eight percent of Americans oppose the restrictions, and 74 percent of Americans disagree with abortion laws that place the responsibility of enforcement on private citizens rather than the state.

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