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What the Trump Administration's Abortion Rule Means for the Virginia Department of Health

The Virginia Department of Health is one of two providers in the state that will be affected by the Trump administration’s new abortion restrictions. The rule, published Monday, strips federal funding from programs that provide abortions or refer patients for abortion services. It is already illegal to use federal funding to pay for abortions.

Virginia’s health department received $3.6 million from the federal Title X program this year to provide low-income patients with cervical cancer screenings, birth control and STD testing at more than 130 locations in the Commonwealth. 

An official with the health department says the administration's new directives require a big shift in the services the clinics provide statewide.

“I would describe them as substantial,” said Dr. Vanessa Walker-Harris, director of the health department’s Office of Family Health Services.

The department can no longer help a patient secure an abortion, and it is no longer required to provide women with information about pregnancy options like prenatal care and adoption. That’s why it’s commonly referred to as a “gag rule”.

“And if it is offered it has to be provided by an advanced practice provider,” Walker-Harris said.  “Currently pregnancy counseling can be done by other team members like nurses.”

The new rule also requires clinics to physically and financially separate their abortion operations from their Title X services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the new rule, which must take effect within 60 days, ensures transparency for the legal and ethical use of taxpayer dollars. The change has been celebrated by anti-abortion groups.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has joined a coalition of 21 states filing a lawsuit against the administration over the policy. He said it interferes with the health care provider and patient relationship by limiting what a doctor can say to a patient.

“The Trump Administration continues to chip away at women’s health care and their right to make their own, informed choices when it comes to their bodies,” Herring said.

Tuesday, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association also filed lawsuits to stop the rule change. Planned Parenthood clinics in Roanoke and Charlottesville recieve Title X funding. 

These groups said the “gag rule” gives many providers no choice but to withdraw from Title X entirely.

“The resulting exodus would cause major gaps in access to care, harm public health, and produce significant, unnecessary cost,” their lawsuit said.

 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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