Federal judge blocks Ohio law that would defund Planned Parenthood

The law targeted $1.4 million in state funding
Posted at 4:46 PM, Aug 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-12 16:47:11-04

A federal judge blocked a state law aimed at diverting public money from Planned Parenthood, saying in a Friday ruling that the group stood to suffer "irreparable injury."

The Ohio law targets the more than $1.4 million in funding that Planned Parenthood gets through the state's health department. That money, mostly from the federal government, supports certain education and prevention programs. The law would bar such funds from going to entities that perform or promote abortions.

“I pleased to see that the Court has decided to stand by the many women who depend on Planned Parenthood for affordable health care services," said Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland). "I applaud the efforts of Planned Parenthood and the many men and women who work each day to protect health care access for women.”

The restrictions, which had been slated to take effect in May, were signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich during his failed presidential bid.

The state's Republican attorney general will appeal the ruling, his spokesman said.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region had sued the state, saying the law violated their constitutional rights by denying them the funds "in retaliation for" providing abortions. Their lawsuit names the state's health director as a defendant.

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati sided with Planned Parenthood in granting a permanent injunction, which keeps state officials from enforcing the law's provisions.

Barrett, who was nominated to the bench by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, said in many instances Planned Parenthood was chosen over other entities to receive the funds as part of a competitive grant process. He said if the changes were to take effect the group couldn't offer some free services and would no longer have access to the juvenile justice and foster care systems to teach teenagers about healthy relationships.

If not blocked, the judge wrote, Planned Parenthood would "suffer a continuing irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law."

The state's attorneys had argued that Planned Parenthood was trying to override state policy choices and that no entity has a constitutional right to receive public money.

"Planned Parenthood supplies no basis for disturbing Ohio's legislative judgments about how to spend its public money," attorneys wrote in a court brief.

Planned Parenthood has said Ohio's law would not force any of its 28 health centers in the state to close but the legislation would deprive thousands of patients of access to HIV tests, breast and cervical cancer screenings and other prevention and education initiatives.

The group's attorneys argued the law was unconstitutional because it required, as a condition of receiving government funds, that recipients abandon their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and to provide abortion services.

Planned Parenthood officials praised the judge's decision, calling it a win for Ohio residents who rely on the organization for care.

"Politicians have no business blocking patients from the care they need — and today the court stopped them in their tracks," said Iris Harvey, the head of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

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, generally around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

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

Anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life, which lobbied in support of the funding changes, said the judge's ruling violates the state's rights and the conscience rights of taxpayers.

"Here is one more example of the arrogance of the Federal Court," said Molly Smith, president of the Cleveland Right to Life group. "We urge Ohio Department of Health Director Rick Hodges to appeal this decision.  Ohio has a history of preferring childbirth over abortion and this common sense and life enhancing citizen policy has been ignored by this activist judge." 

Federal law and the laws of most states already prevent public money from paying for abortions except in rare circumstances, but the recent defunding bills prohibit state money for any services by an organization that also provides abortions.

According to Planned Parenthood, politicians in 24 states have either enacted or proposed measures since last July that target the organization with defunding. In most of those states, the cuts haven't taken effect.

Planned Parenthood says that since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down tough abortion restrictions in Texas, courts have blocked laws there and in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Kansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin.