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Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has joined a multistate lawsuit filed Tuesday that challenges the constitutionality of a new federal rule that bars taxpayer-funded clinics from referring patients for abortions.

The new rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services prevents clinic providers that receive Title X funding from referring a patient for an abortion, even if the patient requests it. The rule also mandates that every pregnant patient receive a referral for prenatal care.

Title X is a federal family planning program that provides $286 million annually for contraception for low-income patients, breast and cervical cancer screenings, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and other health services.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon, against Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. It alleges that the rule, set to take effect in May, will limit what doctors can say to their patients and erode reproductive health care quality.

“All Wisconsinites should have access to safe, quality health care, including family planning services,” Kaul, a Democrat, said in a statement. “But if the new rules for the Title X program aren’t blocked, quality health care will become less accessible. Those changes are unlawful, and they should be set aside.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers echoed support for joining the lawsuit. His 2019-21 budget proposal includes nearly $28 million to expand women’s access to health care, reduce infant mortality and restore funding for Planned Parenthood that was blocked by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“Health care access shouldn’t be political — all patients deserve access to unbiased, medically accurate, comprehensive care,” Evers said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s new rules would make it harder for thousands of Wisconsinites to access the critical family planning and preventative health services our Title X clinics provide each year.”

Republican legislative leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said Kaul joining the suit didn’t come as a surprise.

“We’ve seen from every angle how Planned Parenthood is the beneficiary of Josh Kaul and Tony Evers and we know that Planned Parenthood is getting every single dollar they can from this administration,” she said. “They’re everywhere in this administration.”

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or