Several House Democrats on Thursday asked for more information on HHS' new rule that bars abortion clinics from the $290 million Title X family planning network.
The Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce committee wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar demanding legal justification for the regulation, set to publish to the Federal Register on Monday.
The rule is due to take effect 60 days from the posting unless the courts intervene through one of the lawsuits under review.
The lawmakers asked for evidence to justify the requirement that Title X clinics physically separate abortion services from their family planning care. They also asked why HHS believed it can include adoption as a service option for pregnant Title X patients while excluding other options previously covered.
They also asked whether the department consulted with outside groups while drafting or finalizing the rule, and why HHS did not deem the rule economically significant.
Both proponents and opponents of the rule say barring abortion clinics will reshape the network. Planned Parenthood affiliates currently see 1.4 million out of the 4 million Title X patients nationwide, and the organization would be banned from the network under the regulation.
The letter was sent by Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the committee's health panel Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and oversight panel Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).
Washington State Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson early this week announced he will petition a federal court to block the rule once the Federal Register publishes the final language. Women's healthcare groups are also suing, and additional Democratic attorneys general are expected to file challenges as well.
One of the key provisions in the rule that has clinicians on the alert is the ban on any direct patient referrals for abortion.
Washington state will use this provision as one of its fundamental arguments in the court challenge since the Affordable Care Act included a provision that forbids the federal government from putting limits on how a doctor communicates with a patient.
This is significant since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld late President Ronald Reagan's similar Title X restrictions in 1988, long before the ACA was passed.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the impending legal challenges.