WASHINGTON — President Trump signed legislation on Thursday aimed at cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions, a move cheered by conservatives who have clamored to impose curbs on reproductive rights.
The measure nullifies a rule completed in the last days of the Obama administration that effectively barred state and local governments from withholding federal funding for family planning services related to contraception, sexually transmitted infections, fertility, pregnancy care, and breast and cervical cancer screening from qualified health providers — regardless of whether they also performed abortions. The new measure cleared Congress last month with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tiebreaking vote in the Senate.
The previous Department of Health and Human Services regulation, which took effect two days before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, said that states and localities could not withhold money from a provider for any reason other than an inability to provide family planning services.
Mr. Trump has shown ambivalence about Planned Parenthood, voicing support for its health-related services other than abortion, and his daughter Ivanka has urged him to tread carefully on the issue, concerned about the possible political repercussions of the Republican effort to defund the organization altogether. As a middle ground, Mr. Trump has proposed preserving federal funding for Planned Parenthood if it stops providing abortion services.
The organization has said it will never accept such a deal. And federal law already prohibits government funding for abortion, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save a woman’s life.
Regardless of his misgivings about the effort, Mr. Trump appeared ready to accept congressional Republicans’ idea of using a broad health care overhaul to strip all federal money from Planned Parenthood. When the Freedom Caucus, a conservative faction of House Republicans, refused to support legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act last month, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to denounce the group, saying it had “saved Planned Parenthood.”
Mr. Trump has made restricting abortions a priority during his early days in office. Days after being sworn in, he signed an executive order reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule, which blocks United States funding from going to any nongovernmental organization around the world that provides abortion counseling, even if the money is not used for abortion-related services.
Conservatives have praised Mr. Trump for his anti-abortion moves.
“Prioritizing funding away from Planned Parenthood to comprehensive health care alternatives is a winning issue,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, who attended the closed-door bill signing at the White House on Thursday. “We expect to see Congress continue its efforts to redirect additional taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood through pro-life health care reform after the spring recess.”
Abortion rights activists condemned the action, arguing that it would harm women’s health.
“Despite repeated promises that he would protect and invest in women’s health, President Trump has once again shown that his words carry little weight,” said Heidi Williamson, the senior policy analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress. “Trump’s actions are creating very real and damaging consequences for millions of women and their families, inflicting direct harm on already vulnerable communities.”
The rule reversed on Thursday was a response by the Obama administration to moves by more than a dozen Republican-controlled states in recent years to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. They did so by blocking clinics from receiving Title X money — named for the 1970 law that created the federal family planning program — as well as Medicaid reimbursements.
State courts have ruled against such restrictions for Medicaid reimbursements, but since Title X money is distributed through grants to states, they have the power to set criteria for recipients.
Republicans in Congress and legislatures around the country have targeted Planned Parenthood because its network is the largest provider of abortions, although about half of its affiliates do not perform them.
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