WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to rule on two initiatives by the Trump administration: one placing limits on a federal health program in an attempt to restrict access to abortion, and the other denying green cards to immigrants considered likely to make occasional use of public benefits such as food stamps.
According to the regular court schedule, cases will be heard in the fall. But they could be moot by then, as President Biden has signaled his administration is reconsidering both measures.
The abortion referral case involves a program called Title X, which helps poor women pay for birth control, preventive health screenings for breast and cervical cancer, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
The program, established under a law enacted in 1970, prohibits federal grants from being “used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” The precise meaning of these words is disputed and, over the years, it has been the subject of various interpretations by different administrations.
The Trump administration announced in 2019 that clinics receiving money under the program could not refer patients for abortions at other facilities. Leading medical associations have said this “gag rule” violates medical ethics, and Planned Parenthood has withdrawn from the program.
Several states, the American Medical Association and others have filed a lawsuit challenging the measure, and federal appeals courts in San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia, have issued conflicting decisions. Such divisions often lead to review by the Supreme Court.
The cases the court agreed to consider – Cochran v. Mayor and Baltimore City Council, # 20-454, American Medical Association v. Cochran, # 20-429 and Oregon v. Cochran, No.20-539 – may become irrelevant if the Biden administration revises restrictive regulations of the Trump administration.
The Immigration Case, Department of Homeland Security v. New York, # 20-449, concerns the so-called public charge rule, which aims to discourage some immigrants from using public services.
The Trump administration announced in 2019 that it would revise the rule, which allows officials to deny permanent legal status, also known as a green card, to immigrants who may be in need of public assistance. In the past, only substantial and sustained financial aid or long-term institutionalization counted, and less than 1% of applicants were disqualified for reasons of public office.
The administration’s revised rule broadened the criteria to include “non-cash benefits meeting basic needs such as accommodation or food” used every 12 months over a 36-month period. Using two types of benefits in a single month counts as two months, and so on.
Mr Biden called for a quick review of the measure. One of its goals, he said, was “to reduce fear and confusion among affected communities”.
In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City ruled against the Trump administration, saying the new program would cool participation in public services for those who are eligible.