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Supreme Court to take up appeal of abortion rule that Baltimore challenged

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday that it will hear an appeal over the Trump administration policy that keeps taxpayer-funded clinics from referring women for abortions.

Baltimore had urged the justices not to hear the case, arguing that the ban on abortion referrals would likely be repealed by President Joe Biden.

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The justices also agreed to hear appeals over the “public charge” rule that could deny permanent residency status to immigrants because of their use of food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers or other public benefits.

The cases won’t be argued before the fall, and they could be affected by Biden’s orders to potentially reconsider both policies. Biden called for a “top-to-bottom” review of the public charge rule earlier this month.

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Federal appeals courts in Chicago, New York and San Francisco have invalidated the rule, but it remains in effect pending the final outcome of the cases, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Under the Trump administration policy, applicants for green cards have to show they wouldn’t be burdens to the country or “public charges.”

Federal law already required those seeking permanent residency or legal status to prove they wouldn’t be a “public charge.” But the Trump administration rule included a wider range of programs that could disqualify them.

Immigrant rights advocates deemed it a “wealth test,” while public health experts said it would mean poorer health outcomes and rising costs as low-income migrants chose between needed services and their bid to stay in the country legally.

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Last month, Biden also ordered a review of Trump’s restrictions on family-planning clinics that caused Planned Parenthood to withdraw from the funding program, rather than stop abortion referrals. The group serves 1.6 million low-income women and gave up about $60 million a year in federal funding.

The family-planning restrictions, characterized by opponents as a “gag rule,” are in effect nationwide, except for Maryland. The full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the rule, in a lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore. An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it.

Under Title X, a 1970 law designed to improve access to family planning services, federal money may not be used in programs “where abortion is a method of family planning.”

Abortion rights supporters and opponents have argued for decades whether counseling a patient about abortion or referring a patient to a different provider for an abortion violates that language.

During Trump’s presidency, religious conservatives opposed to abortion scored major victory in their quest to “defund Planned Parenthood” because, among its many services, it is the largest abortion provider in the United States, and they viewed the Title X grants as an indirect subsidy.

Title X patients receive affordable birth control, reproductive care and other care through the program, including breast and cervical cancer screenings and HIV testing.

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