When Senate Democrats voted last week to confirm Xavier Becerra as head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), they were putting their weight behind the Biden administration’s plan to undo all of the pro-life policies implemented under President Donald Trump.
The first policy to go, it appears, will be the “Protect Life” rule, a regulation enacted by Trump’s HHS Department in 2019 to freeze a portion of federal funding that had previously flowed freely to abortion providers across the country.
Shortly after Becerra’s confirmation, the Biden administration announced that it would begin work to reverse this rule — a move that the president had foreshadowed in January when he rescinded the Mexico City policy, which prevented U.S. foreign-aid funding from assisting nongovernmental organizations that provide or promote abortion overseas.
In that January order, Biden instructed his HHS Department to begin reviewing the Protect Life rule, which had resulted in abortion organizations — including Planned Parenthood — losing their access to federal funds from Title X’s family-planning program.
In Becerra, the president has perhaps found the perfect official for the task. As many of us have noted in these pages, the former California attorney general is best known for his longtime radical support for legal, unlimited abortion.
The Protect Life rule was one of the key anti-abortion accomplishments of the Trump administration, as it enabled the executive branch to assist the pro-life movement’s longtime goal of removing federal funding from abortion providers.
Although for several decades the Hyde amendment has been added to federal spending bills to prevent taxpayer money from directly reimbursing providers for the cost of abortion procedures, there is no prohibition on abortion groups receiving federal money, supposedly for other purposes. Therefore, because money is fungible, any money that flows to Planned Parenthood — or to any other abortion provider — is necessarily underwriting and supporting the group’s abortion business.
In light of congressional Republicans’ failure to follow through on their promise to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, the Trump administration crafted the Protect Life rule, using the administrative power of HHS to dry up one funding stream that had previously assisted the abortion group.
The rule required that all Title X providers financially separate their provision of abortion from their other work in order to remain eligible for the family-planning funds. Planned Parenthood, which performs upwards of 350,000 abortion each year, declined to do so and as a result no longer received about $60 million annually in Title X funding — about 20 percent of the group’s overall federal funding, most of which comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.
Undoing this policy has, unsurprisingly, been at the top of the list for the Biden administration, which has publicly admitted to relying on Planned Parenthood to help staff its ranks.
As a result, HHS formally announced late last week that it will rewrite the Title X funding rules, effectively eliminating the provision that had required abortion providers to distinguish their abortion business from everything else they provide.
Since its enactment in 2019, the Protect Life rule had been the subject of legal battles, including one lawsuit led by Becerra himself challenging the Trump administration over the policy. Last month, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a case considering the legality of the rule, which had been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2020 and blocked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last September.
Regardless of Biden’s intent to undo the policy entirely, a Court ruling in favor of the rule’s legality would be useful for future pro-life administrations that want to prevent taxpayers from being forced to fund abortion through Title X.
In addition to undoing the Protect Life rule, Biden has instructed his officials at HHS to review and rescind any existing policies that “impose undue restrictions on the use of Federal funds or women’s access to complete medical information.” The president’s directive, of course, should be read as progressive code for any policy that prevents federal funding from subsidizing abortion providers.