By Karen Pierog
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois will defy enforcement of the Trump administration's rule barring federally subsidized family planning clinics from making abortion referrals, the governor said on Thursday, vowing the state would step in to fund most of those clinics itself.
Illinois' action comes a week after a federal appeals court cleared the way for the administration to cut off Title X grants for reproductive healthcare and family planning for low-income women at clinics that refer patients to abortion providers.
Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said the state would forgo all federal Title X funding while the Trump administration continues to impose its restriction - branded by critics as a "gag rule" designed to silence doctor-patient communications about abortion options.
Instead, the Illinois Department of Public Health will provide state funding to the 28 local clinics that normally receive Title X money through the agency, making up for an estimated $2.4 million in federal dollars they otherwise stand to lose for the rest of the fiscal year, Pritzker said.
"President Trump's gag rule undermines women's health care and threatens the providers that millions of women and girls rely on, and we will not let that stand in the state of Illinois," the governor said in a statement.
Officials for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which administers Title X, did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters seeking comment on Illinois' action.
The Illinois Republican Party denounced Pritzker's willingness to turn away federal funding of "non-abortion-related medical care for women and girls because of his unrivaled zeal for forced taxpayer funding of abortions."
At least two other states, Maryland and Massachusetts, took similar pre-emptive countermeasures months ago, enacting legislation to temporarily opt out of Title X if the new rule takes effect, and to provide state funding in its place.
Maine Family Planning, a nonprofit, sole recipient of Title X funds in that state, has also said it would withdraw from the program rather than abide by the new rules. The Democratic governors of four other states - New York, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state - threatened to end participation in Title X.
Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions and other health services for women under Title X, has already said it would likewise reject Title X money under the new rules, relying instead on private donations and emergency funds to make up the difference.
Planned Parenthood operates 17 clinics in Illinois, said Julie Lynn, a spokeswoman for the state organization.
AIMED AT PLANNED PARENTHOOD
The administration's policy is aimed at fulfilling President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to end federal support for Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortions in the United States.
The administration's new policy also requires financial and physical separation between facilities funded by Title X and those actually providing abortions.
Federal judges in Washington state, California and Oregon, among nearly two dozen states challenging the administration's rule in court, issued preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the rule earlier this year. It had been slated to take effect in May.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 20 lifted those injunctions, and the same court rejected emergency bids to overturn that decision last week. That allowed the restrictions to go back into effect while court challenges proceed.
Congress appropriated $286 million in Title X grants in 2017 to Planned Parenthood and other health centers to provide birth control, screening for diseases and other reproductive health and counseling to low-income women.
That funding already was prohibited from being used to pay for abortions, but abortion opponents have long complained that the money in effect subsidizes Planned Parenthood as a whole, including its abortion services.
Planned Parenthood provides healthcare services to about 40% of the 4 million people who rely on Title X funding annually.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)