Obama administration shores up protections for Planned Parenthood
Planned parenthood protest (flickrusersmirk)

The Obama administration has issued a final rule designed to block states from withholding federal Title X money for Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics.

The new rule, issued on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is designed to clarify regulations under Title X of the Public Health Service Act and "protect access to family planning services," the department said in a statement.

“This rule will strengthen access to essential services like cancer screenings and contraception for some of the most vulnerable patients in this country,” Dr. Karen Scott, chief medical officer of the HHS, said in a statement.

Scott said public comments prior to finalizing the rule "showed overwhelming support."

The move was seen as a last-ditch effort by the Obama administration to shore up protections under Title X, which provides funds to nearly 4,000 community-based clinics that serve more than 4 million people each year.

HHS said the rule aimed to address moves by several states to restrict participation by "certain types of providers" for reasons unrelated to their ability to provide family planning services.

The final rule clarifies that entities cannot be barred from participating for reasons other than their ability to provide services.

"The Obama Administration’s rule makes it clear that it is against the law for states to block people from accessing care at a health center because the organization also provides safe, legal abortion," Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Jilian Mincer in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)