WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday requested the Supreme Court dismiss a series of cases involving former President Donald Trump’s effort to cut federal funding for medical centers that refer patients for abortions, the latest in a series of controversial disputes the Justice Department is backing away from.
Described by critics as a “gag rule,” the 2019 provision drew condemnation from Democrats and praise from anti-abortion groups that saw it as a way to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Federal appeals courts have split on the rule’s constitutionality, and the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the issue just three weeks ago.
The U.S. Solicitor General’s office requested the dismissal in paperwork filed Friday.
If granted, it would be the latest instance of a legal controversy that grew out of the Trump administration fizzling before the justices had a chance to rule. The Biden administration and other parties have secured dismissals on several Trump-era immigration policies, for instance, as well as questions caused by the 2020 election.
Earlier this week, the court also agreed to put on hold arguments in a case about whether states may impose work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.
Biden has reversed some of those policies through executive action or asked federal departments to study the impact of unwinding them. The process of fully rescinding some of the Trump regulations could take months or even years.
More:Supreme Court pauses cases on Trump border wall, asylum policy
More:Immigration fizzles at the Supreme Court with Trump gone
More:Supreme Court puts Medicaid requirements on hold as Biden reverses policy
Supporters of the funding rule said it would ensure taxpayer money isn’t used for abortions, while opponents say it would restrict the ability of women to obtain abortion counseling and other medical services. The case could have given the court’s new 6-3 conservative majority a first opportunity to wade into the abortion debate.
Trump effectively blocked clinics from receiving federal grants through the Title X program if they offered abortion services with other funds. Created in 1970, the program offers more than $250 million in annual federal funding for health services for low-income families and the uninsured. The money cannot be used to pay for abortion.
Trump stiffened the rules of the program by also barring referrals for abortion services. Since those changes, about one-quarter of clinics and other providers that had received federal grants to help the uninsured or low-income patients no longer participate, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Advocates say that has reduced women’s access to contraception, cancer screenings and preventive care.