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Federal appeals court upholds Ohio law to defund Planned Parenthood

Posted at 1:46 PM, Mar 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-12 23:19:22-04

COLUMBUS — A divided federal appeals court Tuesday upheld an Ohio anti-abortion law that blocks public money for Planned Parenthood.

The full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower federal court ruling. The Ohio law targeted funding that Planned Parenthood receives through the state’s health department. That money is mostly from the federal government and supports education and prevention programs.

The law bars such funds from entities that perform or promote abortions.

Phone and email messages were left Tuesday with Planned Parenthood seeking comment. It could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote the opinion for an 11-6 majority, saying the judges rejected the contention by two Planned Parenthood affiliates that the Ohio law imposes an unconstitutional condition on public funding.

“The affiliates are correct that the Ohio law imposes a condition on the continued receipt of state funds. But that condition does not violate the Constitution because the affiliates do not have a due process right to perform abortions,” Sutton wrote.

Sutton wrote for the majority that while Planned Parenthood contends that the Ohio law will unconstitutionally deprive women of the right to access abortion services without undue burden, that conclusion is premature and speculative because Planned Parenthood has stated it will continue to provide abortion services.

Judge Helene White wrote the dissenting opinion, saying such laws allow targeting of abortion providers who are “merely a proxy for the woman and her constitutional rights” and are trying to make them “cry uncle.” She said using the majority’s reasoning, “the government can do almost anything it wants to penalize abortion providers so long as they resist the coercion and continue to perform abortions.”

A U.S. district court ruling had agreed with Planned Parenthood that denying the organization funding if it continued to perform abortions violated the organization’s right to due process, and that denying funding for promoting abortion violated its free speech rights.

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit appeals court agreed with the lower-court ruling, prompting then-Attorney General Mike DeWine last year to seek a full-court hearing. The Republican took office this year as governor.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, women have a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Anti-abortion groups and politicians around the country have continued efforts to undermine that ruling or get it reversed by a Supreme Court with two new justices nominated by Republican President Donald Trump.

Planned Parenthood is a national target because of its role as the largest U.S. abortion provider.

Following the ruling, Senator Sherrod Brown released this statement:

“Today’s ruling rewards a political stunt by state lawmakers that has real consequences for Ohio women and families,” said Brown. “By blocking funding for women to access potentially lifesaving healthcare – including breast and cervical cancer screenings and infant mortality prevention programs – Ohio lawmakers are putting politics over the health and safety of their constituents.”

Ohio Right to Life released a statement following the ruling:

"The 6th Circuit ruled that no corporation has a Constitutional right to our tax dollars and they got this right! Ohio Right to Life is absolutely thrilled that Planned Parenthood will not get any more of our state tax dollars. Thanks to this very encouraging decision, Ohioans of conscience won't have to worry about whether their tax dollars are going towards abortions. Ohio Right to Life worked tirelessly to enact this law and we are grateful that the federal appellate court agrees with our strategy. We're thankful for the leadership of former Representative Margy Conditt, who sponsored this bill in the Ohio House.

Read the full decision below:

Ruling by the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals