By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – A federal judge ruled on Monday against birth control organizations that sought to block the Trump administration from shifting a federal family-planning grant program toward prioritizing groups that are faith-based and counsel abstinence.
Three planned Parenthood organizations along with the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association filed lawsuits, which were later combined, in May challenging guidelines the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued in February.
Those guidelines set forth new criteria for how the department under Republican President Donald Trump would assess applications for grants under the Title X family planning program. The grants are expected to total $260 million.
The organizations objected to the criteria’s focus on abstinence, easier access to primary health care, increasing family participation and cooperation with faith-based organizations, according to the ruling.
The organizations argued that the changes require a notice and comment rule-making process, violate the Title X law and were “arbitrary and capricious.”
United States District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, said in his ruling that “courts cannot review substantive objections to a non-final agency action, nor can they require formal rulemaking for a change in agency procedure.”
McFadden also said that if he could rule on the merits of the case, the government’s changes align with program’s commitment to support “voluntary family projects … offering a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services.”
Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor and strident opponent of abortion, has pushed Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. The non-profit’s clinics provide contraception, health screenings and abortions.
“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to impose its ideology on people – no matter how many it hurts,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Monday, adding that the ruling could effect the health care of four million people.
Planned Parenthood health centers serve more than 40 percent of patients receiving care subsidized by Title X.
HHS could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Darren Schuettler)