WASHINGTON – New federal judicial rulings have stymied efforts by two states to prohibit funding for the country’s leading abortion provider.
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Indiana cannot enforce a ban on state-directed funding of abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. In its decision Oct. 23, the Chicago-based court affirmed a lower court’s preliminary injunction against the law while it remains under judicial consideration.
On Oct. 19, a federal judge in Phoenix blocked enforcement of a similar Arizona law while the case proceeds in court. That law also prohibits state money for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
The Obama administration filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Planned Parenthood’s lawsuits in both cases in further examples of its commitment to maintaining government funding for the controversial organization.
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates benefit greatly from federal, state and local governments – having received $487.4 million in grants, contracts and reimbursements in 2009-10, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Those funds help support an organization that performed 329,445 abortions in 2010. That was more than one-fourth of the lethal procedures in the United States for the year.
The rulings came as no surprise to pro-life organizations.
Planned Parenthood “has been able to rely only on sympathetic courts and the Obama Administration to buck the will of the taxpayers” while 14 states have proposed or passed bans on funds for abortion providers during the last two years, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, in a written statement after the Seventh Circuit ruling. “Planned Parenthood may have been handed a victory in the court but is losing, more importantly, in the court of public opinion.”
Local and state government actions in 10 states the last two years have reduced funding for Planned Parenthood alone by more than $60 million, according to the SBA List.
The 2011 Indiana law, which was the first state funding ban on abortion providers, would eliminate about $1.3 million that Planned Parenthood of Indiana receives each year, The Indianapolis Star reported. The law exempts hospitals and outpatient surgery centers.
A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court agreed with a federal judge that Planned Parenthood was likely to succeed in its contention that the Indiana ban violates a federal law that mandates state Medicaid programs permit patients to choose their health-care providers. The panel said the Indiana law “excludes a class of providers from Medicaid for reasons unrelated to provider qualifications” and returned the case to the federal court.
A pro-life lawyer criticized the decision.
“The will of Indiana taxpayers to close loopholes so that their money isn’t used to fund the operations of abortion sellers should be respected,” said Steven Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, in a written statement. “During these tough economic times, it makes no sense to contradict the will of the people of Indiana, who don’t believe abortionists deserve to receive government funding.”
In the Arizona case, Federal Judge Neil Wake – like the Seventh Circuit panel – said the ban is likely to be found to infringe the federal right of Medicaid patients to select their health-care providers, the Associated Press reported. Wake scheduled a hearing in the case for Dec. 6.
Josh Credit, legislative counsel with the Center for Arizona Policy, told CitizenLink, “We lost round one. But the attorneys defending the law are going to be either going forward with the lawsuit on the merits, or talking about an appeal of this decision.”
In contrast to the latest rulings, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans delivered a victory in August to Texas in its attempt to prevent Planned Parenthood from participating in a women’s health program. A three-judge panel lifted a federal judge’s preliminary injunction that blocked implementation of the 2011 law.
The measure prohibits the state from contracting under the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program with organizations that “perform or promote elective abortions or affiliate with entities that perform or promote elective abortions” but reportedly affects only Planned Parenthood. The panel returned the case to the federal court for consideration.
The Obama administration has responded to some state laws that defunded Planned Parenthood by directly giving money to the abortion provider. The administration took such action in New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Tennessee in the last two years.
According to federal law, federal family planning funds cannot be used for the performance of abortions, but pro-life advocates point out that the grants to Planned parenthood free up other funds for use in performing abortions.
Planned Parenthood, which has been plagued by various scandals in recent years, is the target of a congressional investigation that began last year. A subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee has been looking into reports of potential fraud and failure to report suspected sex abuse and human trafficking.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)