The Denver Post

Colorado is joining 19 states and the District of Columbia in filing a lawsuit to stop the so-called abortion “gag rule” changes to a federal grant program that provides reproductive health care services, including cancer screenings and contraception.

The lawsuit, which is being led by Oregon, is expected to be filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., according to a news release from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. A spokesperson for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office confirmed the state will join the suit.

The legal action seeks to stop rule changes being made to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Title X family planning program, which are expected to go into effect in 60 days.

Opponents are calling the changes a “gag rule” because health providers that receive Title X funding will no longer be able to refer patients for abortion services. The new policy also prohibits family planning services funded by the program from being housed in the same physical location as abortion providers.

“These restrictions threaten to undermine health care providers’ ability to serve their patients professionally,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement. “If these rules go into effect, Colorado will see an increase in teen births, unintended pregnancies and abortions.”

Other states joining the lawsuit include New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland.

California filed its own lawsuit against the Title X rule on Monday, with that state’s attorney general calling it an “attack on women’s health.”

“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,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

However, the rule change has drawn supporters. It “draws a bright line” between family planning services and abortion, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a February statement.

“Planned Parenthood and other abortion centers will now have to choose between dropping their abortion services from any location that gets Title X dollars and moving those abortion operations offsite,” he said. ”Either way, this will loosen the group’s hold on tens of millions of tax dollars.”

Colorado’s health department on Monday “denounced” the new rule changes. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment receives about $3.8 million a year from the Title X program.

None of the money the department receives goes toward abortion services, but the agency said it contracts 29 organizations that provide family planning services in 76 clinics across Colorado. Under the new rule, physicians and other advanced providers at these facilities will not be able to refer patients for abortions.

Nurses, social workers and other counselors will also be prohibited from counseling women about abortions. Instead, that responsibility will fall on physicians and advanced providers, said Jody Camp, family planning section manager for the health department, in an interview.

The new rule could cut the number of providers in the Title X program and hinder “honest conversations and damage the strength of the provider-patient relationship,” the health department said in a news release.

“Our work is based on a commitment to ensuring all residents have access to care, and this rule eradicates the progress we’ve made,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the state health department,in a statement. “It will result in more unintended pregnancies, more sexually transmitted infections and more early-stage cancers that will go undetected. The men and women of our state deserve better.”

There is only one Title X provider in the state that also offers abortion services.

Since it will be challenged in court, Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center has no plans to alter its services in response to the rule changes, said spokeswoman Lisa Radelet.

“We are going to keep providing the care we have always provided,” she said. “We were the first abortion clinic in the state.”

Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center opened in 1973, months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade ruling legalized abortions nationwide.

The center’s Title X funding does not go toward abortions. Those services are paid for by patients and their insurance companies. And the center has a fund — supported via private donations — to help low-income patients who can’t afford the costs, Radelet said.

“What this new rule does upends the whole intent of the program by inserting abortion politics into this program,” she said.

 

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