Reproductive Rights and Justice Project Secures Win Against Federal Family Planning Rule

On February 14, 2020, Yale Law students in the Reproductive Rights and Justice Project (RRJP) clinic won partial summary judgment in Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar, et al. The students represent the City of Baltimore in its challenge to a rule promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would amend federal regulations governing federal funding of family planning services — other than abortion — under the Title X program. The clinic represents the City of Baltimore with attorneys from the City Attorney’s office, Arnold & Porter, and The Lawyering Project.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland held that it was “compelled to find that HHS’s promulgation of the final rule was arbitrary and capricious” because it was inadequately justified and objectively unreasonable. The court held that HHS inadequately explained its decision to “disagree” with comments by every major medical organization stating that the final rule was in contravention of medical ethics; that it inadequately considered the devastating impact of the rule on access to services; and that it inadequately considered the likely costs and benefits imposed by the rule, seriously underestimating the costs the rule would impose on providers. The Court vacated the ruling preventing enforcement of the federal rule but limited vacatur to the State of Maryland. Plaintiff filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment to issue the appropriate relief — vacatur without a geographical limitation. That motion is still pending.

Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.

“We are encouraged by the court’s ruling and look forward to the time when Baltimore can rejoin the Title X program and continue to improve the health of its patients and their families,” said Erica Turret ’20, a student in the clinic.

The Clinic also scored another victory in the case on March 27, 2020, when the Fourth Circuit granted the Plaintiff’s motion for an initial hearing en banc of the government’s appeal and denied the government’s motion to stay the District Court’s judgment. Other similar lawsuits have been unsuccessful to date. As a result of the clinic’s work on this case, the only place in the country the rule is not in effect is Maryland. Clinicians on the current Title X team are Sarah Bever-Chritton ’20, Evelyn Cai ’20, Brooke Dekolf ’21, Elisabeth Kryska ’22, Daniel Ocampo ’22, Shelby Teeter ’21, and Erica Turret, supervised by Fellowship Attorney Faren Tang ’18 and RRJP Director Priscilla Smith ’91.

Students in the Reproductive Rights and Justice Project gain firsthand experience in fast-paced litigation and timely and strategic advocacy in a highly contested area of the law, confronting complicated procedural problems as well as substantive constitutional law questions in an area where established doctrine is under siege. In addition to other litigation, clinicians are also supporting efforts to fight bans on abortion imposed by many states under cover of COVID-19 prohibitions on “nonessential services.”