Federal judge blocks Ohio law defunding Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood argued that the law infringed on its 1st and 14th Amendment rights because it strips public funding based on the fact the group provides legal, constitutionally protected abortions.

click to enlarge A protester sits outside the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
A protester sits outside the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn

A federal court today blocked an Ohio law passed by pro-life state legislators that stripped the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics of funding used for reproductive health and other services.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati granted a permanent injunction sought by the health care provider against an Ohio law that prohibits the organization from receiving more than $1.4 million in Ohio Department of Health funding it used to provide sexual education services, screenings for cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, as well as other health services.

Today’s ruling is a win for the Ohioans who rely on us for care,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood will not stop fighting until every person can receive the essential health care they need. Momentum is on our side — these attacks on reproductive health care will fall one by one. We are not going back.”

Republicans in Ohio’s legislature passed that law in February after a national controversy surrounding videos released by an anti-abortion group claimed to show fetal tissue being sold by Planned Parenthood representatives. The videos drew criticism and were later shown to be heavily-edited. No Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio were found to be selling fetal remains.

Proponents of the bill in the State House said the move was about keeping tax payer funds away from abortion providers. Many pushed back at the idea it would harm women.

State Rep. Margaret Conditt, a Republican, said the bill wasn’t just about Planned Parenthood, but was about helping women.

There is no mention of any particular abortion provider in this legislation,” she said just before the House passed the bill back in November of last year.

Funding that had gone to Planned Parenthood contracts would have been diverted to other health care and sex-ed providers, supporters of the move said.

Planned Parenthood argued that the law, HB 294, infringed on its 1st Amendment rights because it strips public funding based on the fact the group provides legal, constitutionally protected abortions. The group also argued that the prohibition state funding violates the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses because it discriminates against an organization that is providing a legally allowed service. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision declared abortion a constitutionallyprotected right.

Planned Parenthood says that 75 percent of its clients in Ohio are low-income women who would be heavily burdened without access to the services they provide, often free of charge.

Attorneys for the state of Ohio argued that the group has no constitutional right to state contracts. Because it is legal to pass laws prohibiting the use of state and federal funds for abortions, it is also legal to withhold those funds for other purposes performed by organizations that provide them, the state’s attorneys argued. Ohio also argued that it has the right to withhold funding for things like sex-ed programs that may contradict the state’s own programs, including sex-ed programs that stress abstinence and prenatal programs that stress childbirth over abortion.

The court sided with Planned Parenthood.

Plaintiffs maintain that if [the law] were to go into effect, they would no longer be able to offer free of charge some of theservices under the programs impacted,” the court’s decision reads. “Plaintiffs maintain that the requirement to pay even a reduced fee will deter patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.

"Plaintiffs would also no longer have access to the juvenile justice and foster care systems to teach teenagers about healthy relationships as part of the PREP program. Based on this evidence in the record, the Court finds the irreparable injury is continuing and there is a lack of an adequate remedy at law because monetary damages could not compensate Plaintiffs for this injury.

 "Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have established that if the enforcement of [the law] is not permanently enjoined, Plaintiffs will suffer a continuing irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”

Planned Parenthood operates 28 clinics in the state, three of which provide abortions.

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