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U.S. judge in Washington state blocks new Trump abortion rule

SEATTLE (AP) — A U.S. judge in Washington state Thursday blocked new Trump administration rules that could cut off federal funding for health care providers who refer patients for an abortion.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima granted the preliminary injunction in cases brought by the state and abortion rights groups, the Washington attorney general’s office said.

The ruling came two days after a U.S. judge in Oregon, hearing a separate challenge by 20 states, said he intended to at least partially block the rules. They were due to take effect May 3.

The lawsuits said the administration’s planned changes to the Title X family planning program, which was created in 1970 and serves 4 million patients, were a transparent attack on Planned Parenthood and would curb access to care such as contraception and breast and cervical cancer screening for millions of low-income people.

In addition to banning abortion referrals by taxpayer-funded clinics, the changes would prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers — a rule critics said would force many to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.

“All over the country, there are Title X providers looking at their patient schedules and wondering what they were going to do,” said Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which sued. “Now we know that everyone can continue to do their care as they have been doing for the past 50 years.”

The judge made his ruling from the bench and said he would issue a written opinion early next week, Coleman said.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. Religious conservatives and abortion opponents have long complained that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize abortion providers.

Across Washington state in 2017, 14,000 patients received federally funded services at 85 of the clinics, many of them operated by Planned Parenthood.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit said Trump’s policy violates the Affordable Care Act, which protects providers and patients from government interference in the health care relationship, and a federal law that requires doctors to provide information about abortion and prenatal care to patients in an unbiased manner.

It also violates the Administrative Procedures Act by contradicting Title X regulations without sufficient justification, and it violates doctors’ right to free speech and women’s right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade, he alleged.