A Trump administration rule that abortion providers say will limit access to their services won’t take effect immediately in Maine, after all.

The rule has been challenged in courts across the country, and federal judges have disagreed about whether it should take effect while those legal battles are pending.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker ruled Wednesday that the government could implement the rule while a legal challenge by Maine Family Planning and the national Center for Reproductive Rights plays out in court. That decision was a blow to the organization that provides 500 abortions a year in Maine.

But later the same day, the full slate of judges in a federal appeals court on the West Coast agreed to reconsider a similar lawsuit. Their decision reinstated a nationwide injunction, so the rule will not take effect anywhere for now.

George Hill, the president and CEO of Maine Family Planning, described the back-to-back decisions as a “roller coaster.”

“This was extremely good news for us to receive, however many hours after Judge Walker’s decision,” Hill said Thursday.


Federal Title X funds pay for birth control, STD tests and cancer screening for low-income people. The new rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services bans family planning clinics that receive Title X funds from making abortion referrals – what critics are calling a “gag rule.”

Those clinics would also be barred from providing abortion services in the same buildings where they provide the health services paid for by the Title X funds, a requirement that would increase costs for many providers.

Maine Family Planning has said that expense would force it to stop offering abortion services at all but one of its family planning clinics in the state. Under that scenario, Mainers would have only three publicly accessible locations for abortion care across the state – the flagship Maine Family Planning Clinic in Augusta, the Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor and the Planned Parenthood location in Portland.

The organization receives $2 million annually in Title X funding. The agency operates 18 clinics and also shared those federal funds with 29 other health centers across Maine.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws generally prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

Maine Family Planning was one of several organizations across the country to file lawsuits challenging the new rule.


Some federal judges in other states blocked the rule and issued nationwide injunctions, which meant the rule could not take effect anywhere. But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overruled them in June.

On Wednesday, however, the full court agreed to rehear the case “en banc,” which means all of the judges in that court will participate. That decision allows the nationwide injunction to stand again, which also takes precedence over Walker’s ruling from the lower court on the same day.

Hill said the effect of Walker’s decision in Maine would not have immediately been dramatic. While the new rule was legally in effect, it was not yet being enforced, likely because of the uncertainty of the legal battles.

Maine Family Planning and the Center for Reproductive Rights still plan to appeal Walker’s ruling to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Boston. They will also continue to argue the merits of the rule in Walker’s court in Portland.

In his written decision, Walker said he was not convinced that the harms alleged by Maine Family Planning were so immediate that he needed to block the rule right away.

“Since the start of this now almost 50-year-old culture war, much has changed,” he wrote. “Abortion services in this day and age are more readily available than they have ever been, due to advances in technology, telecommunications, and medicine. Given these advances, well-illustrated on the record now before me, it appears that reconfiguring the model for delivery of abortion services has never been easier and that the path forward likely is not as convoluted and insurmountable as plaintiffs insist.”

Hill said he hopes the case will proceed in a way that changes Walker’s mind.

“If he had those reservations about our argument, then we wish that he had expressed them during the hearing and given us an opportunity to actually demonstrate the level of harm that would be inflicted if this rule is implemented, but we’ll have the opportunity down the road when it comes time to argue the case,” Hill said.

The federal government has previously declined to answer questions about the lawsuit in Maine.

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