Jan. 19, 2018 – Days before the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade, the Trump Administration doubled down on efforts to target the health and the rights of women, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized communities. Shortly before President Trump made an unprecedented satellite address at an annual anti-abortion rally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule drastically expanding the authority and scope of its enforcement around religious and moral exemption laws. Building off yesterday’s announcement of a new division of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights, (OCR), the rule would encourage providers to discriminate against patients and to deny health care, including abortion, under the pretext of religious freedom. The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on January 26, and will be open for a 60 day public comment period thereafter.

In addition, with virtually no explanation or basis, HHS rescinded 2016 guidance clarifying that Medicaid enrollees are entitled to a free choice of family planning providers. The 2016 guidance confirms that states are not allowed to remove qualified family planning providers from their state Medicaid system solely because they provide family planning services or the full range of legal OB/GYN care, including abortion. Although the “free choice of provider” provision still stands in Medicaid statute, today’s announcement signals that the Trump Administration would support states in cutting Medicaid family planning funding for providers such as Planned Parenthood. Texas has submitted a waiver application to this effect in July 2017, which has yet to be approved.

Said Maya Rupert, Senior Director, Policy and Managing Director, D.C. Office:

“President Trump spent today delivering remarks in support of the campaign to end access to safe and legal abortion, while his administration made good on a promise to further imperil women’s rights and undercut access to healthcare under the guise of protecting religious liberty.

“This proposed rule invites an all-out attack on the health and rights of patients, and the result will be devastating for the quality of care provided to those who need it most.

“The willingness to attack a constitutionally guaranteed right, misuse crucial legal precedent to support discrimination, and threaten the health and rights of people in this country says everything about this administration’s anti-woman, anti-health, anti-LGBTQ agenda and its disrespect for the rule of law. The Center for Reproductive Rights will match the administration blow for blow to fight back against this senseless assault on women’s access to reproductive health care.”

Among some of the proposed rule’s more egregious provisions are: a commitment not only to investigate complaints received, but also to investigate based on news reports, a thinly-veiled threat to cut off federal funding to states such as California that allow insurance coverage for abortions, and a vastly-expanded definition of what it means to assist in the performance of a health care procedure.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump Administration has issued religious or moral exemptions that affect women’s access to reproductive health care. In October, the Trump Administration issued interim final rules to restrict access to birth control by creating a broad exemption allowing virtually any employer or university with a religious or moral objection to refuse to cover contraception for their employees or students. The Center filed suit against the rules in federal court, which have since been blocked from going into effect by courts in Pennsylvania and California.