Supreme Court takes up Trump regulation on abortion counseling

Activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, March 4, 2020. By Caroline Kelly and Ariane de Vogue, CNN

(CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to a Trump administration rule barring federally funded health care providers in the Title X family planning program from referring patients for abortions.

Lower courts have split on the Trump administration's regulation, which critics call a "gag rule" and is currently in effect in most states.

The court's decision comes after President Joe Biden signed a presidential memorandum directing the Health and Human Services Department to immediately move to consider rescinding the rule, and as abortion opponents looking for a Supreme Court fight over reproductive rights, most recently in South Carolina, continue to advance state restrictions on the procedure.

The justices consolidated three cases concerning the rule to hear in a single challenge, the court announced on Monday.

The rule concerns Title X, a federally funded program that served about 4 million people a year in 2019, according to HHS. It provides resources including contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and preventive education and testing for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV -- but not abortions. Previously, the clinics had been allowed to offer abortion counseling and provide referrals.

In 2019, HHS moved to bar health care providers participating in the program from offering abortion referrals, prompting multiple federal court challenges in which federal judges blocked the rule.

That August, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the rule to go into effect despite the ongoing challenge against it, prompting Planned Parenthood to withdraw from the program. But in 2020, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's block on the rule, resulting in conflicting rulings.

The American Medical Association, the main industry group for doctors, and other health care and reproductive rights groups asked the Supreme Court to block the rule in October. Later that month, 21 states and the District of Columbia filed another challenge over the rule, as did then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar against the city of Baltimore.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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