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Obama has blocked states from defunding Planned Parenthood — for now, at least

Christian Activists Call On GOP Not To Fund Planned Parenthood Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Since July 2015, when a series of anti-abortion propaganda videos attacking Planned Parenthood were released, at least two dozen Republican-controlled states have tried to “defund” the organization — despite warnings from the Obama administration that doing so was probably illegal.

On Wednesday, however, the Obama administration finalized a rule clarifying that states definitely can’t keep Planned Parenthood from receiving public family planning funds — at least not just because it provides abortions.

The rule covers Title X, the only federal program dedicated to family planning for low-income people. Planned Parenthood serves about a third of more than 4 million low-income patients under Title X, providing services like birth control, cancer screenings, STI prevention, and other preventive health care.

Title X doesn’t actually cover abortion, due to the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment. Planned Parenthood funds its abortion services through other means.

But conservatives have tried to withhold public funding under Title X in order to punish Planned Parenthood for offering abortions. The mere fact that Planned Parenthood provides other services that aren’t covered by Title X isn’t supposed to disqualify it from receiving Title X funding under the existing rules, though.

But the new rules clarify that language, leaving no room for doubt that states can’t block a group’s Title X funding “for reasons other than its ability to provide Title X services.”

“President Obama has cemented his legacy as a champion for women’s health,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

Unfortunately for Planned Parenthood, though, cementing Obama’s legacy may be the only thing the rule gets a chance to do. The Trump administration is staffed with ardent opponents of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights.

When he was in Congress, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was responsible for launching the GOP’s war on Planned Parenthood. Even more to the point, Donald Trump’s pick for health and human services secretary, Tom Price — who will lead the department that just finalized these new rules — is staunchly anti-abortion and opposes the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.

On Thursday, congressional Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus included the new Title X rule on a long list of regulations that they’d like to see repealed in the first 100 days after Trump takes office. Officials told reporters on a press call Thursday that the incoming Trump administration is still weighing whether to repeal the new rule.

Republicans often argue that women could go somewhere else if Planned Parenthood’s public funding were taken away — but that’s nonsense, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained. Planned Parenthood plays too central a role in providing reproductive health care for low-income people, and other Title X–funded clinics simply aren’t equipped to take on its patient load. When Planned Parenthood was defunded in Texas, for instance, it drastically reduced the amount of health care women were able to receive.

And given that Republicans in Congress routinely try to gut funding for the Title X program altogether, it’s especially disingenuous to argue that women could just go to other Title X clinics if Planned Parenthood lost its funding.