This article first appeared online at ABC News on July 1, 2011.
Planned Parenthood Fights Defunding Laws
By Amy Bingham
After federal attempts to defund Planned Parenthood as part of Congress’ Continuing Resolution spending bill failed in April, pro-life activists took to state legislatures to continue the battle.
Four states have passed laws this year that cut funds to the group and a host of others have passed legislation that places restrictions on abortions, spurring legal backlash from Planned Parenthood. Many of the new state laws go into effect today.
“There is a huge tidal wave of support sweeping across the country right now to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Ciara Matthews, a spokesperson for the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life activist group. “What the states are doing is what the federal government has failed to do, and that is to strip tax dollars from America’s abortion giant.”
In response to the defunding efforts, Planned Parenthood has filed lawsuits in three states – Indiana, Kansas and Montana — with possibly two more to come in North Carolina and Wisconsin.
“It’s unprecedented that so many states have enacted legislation to bar public funding for Planned Parenthood,” said Tait Sye, a national spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.
Sye said the group has never been involved in this many legal battles simultaneously.
Planned Parented won one such battle Thursday when a South Dakota judge granted the group’s injunction, blocking a state abortion law from going into effect Friday. The state law would have required women seeking abortions to wait three days and receive counseling at a crisis pregnancy center that discourages abortions.
“This law represents a blatant intrusion by politicians into difficult decisions women and families sometimes need to make,” said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. “We trust women and families in South Dakota to know and do what is best for them, without being coerced by the government. And we stand with them in our efforts to overturn this outrageous law.”
In Kansas, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state on Monday over a law that would go into effect today diverting federal family planning funds to hospitals and public health departments instead of Planned Parenthood.
Kansas also passed strict new licensing laws that require the temperature in abortion clinics to be between 68 and 73 degrees, operating rooms no less than 150 square feet and a janitors’ closet that is at least 50 square feet. Planned Parenthood received their new license Thursday, just in time before today’s deadline.
Tait said Planned Parenthood does not use any public money for abortions, which make up only about 3 percent of their services.
“The reality is that it has nothing to do with abortion at all. What these laws are saying is these women can’t go to Planned Parenthood and get care for birth control or cancer screenings,” he said.
Indiana State Sen. Scott Schneider, who authored the state’s defunding legislation, said state defunding efforts were inspired in large part because the issue failed at the federal level.
“I think the fundamental issue has always been that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the practice of abortion,” he said.
Planned Parenthood receives about one third of its $1.1 billion budget from public funds. When Congress was debating defunding the group in March and April, Sye said their online donations rose 500 percent.
Obama Administration Weighs In
In Indiana, Planned Parenthood is fighting a law that bans Medicaid funds from going to health centers that provide abortions.
The law went into effect immediately after it was signed in May, instantly slashing about $1.3 million from Planned Parenthood’s budget.
The group sued for an injunction on the law to keep funds flowing, which was granted last week. Throughout the monthlong funding gap, Planned Parenthood was able to continue seeing Medicaid patients because of the nearly $100,000 in private donations sent from around the world.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support,” said Kate Shepherd, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Indiana. But, she added,”It is as with a natural disaster when you see donations flood in and then trickle off. We can’t sustain it.”
Shepherd said that without public funding, Planned Parenthood Indiana would have to close eight of its 28 centers.
“It would be a huge blow because many of our counties are already underserved, according to the federal government,” she said. “Many are in more rural areas. If we were to leave, there aren’t a lot of options that accept new Medicaid patients.”
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a brief on behalf of Planned Parenthood, saying the Indiana law violated Medicaid’s federally mandated provision allowing people to choose any qualified provider for their care. The Department of Health and Human Services denied the state’s new Medicaid regulations for the same reason. The Obama administration warned that it could halt all Medicaid funds to Indiana if the law was upheld.
Schneider said who the state decides to do business with was a state’s rights issue and that the federal government was overstepping its authority by getting involved in the case.
“The Obama administration is trying to beat states into compliance by using federal money or by using a ruling out of HHS to try to force its policy on the states,” Schneider said.
Paige Johnson, vice president for public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, said the plethora of state laws targeting Planned Parenthood are “purely political” and a direct result of Republicans sweeping the 2010 midterm elections.
“This is really, surely a political move on the part of conservative Republicans to mobilize their base in 2012,” she said. “North Carolina is going to play heavily in national politics and it is part of their strategy.”
Planned Parenthood funding will be cut off in North Carolina today when the state’s budget goes into effect. The law specifically denies Planned Parenthood’s receiving state money.
“This is an unprecedented move,” Johnson said. “North Carolina has never singled out a medical provider and said, You can’t do business with the state.”
Planned Parenthood is also challenging a law in Montana that prohibits the states’ low-income insurance program from covering birth control costs. The law has been on the books for almost a decade. After failed attempts to change it in the legislature, Planned Parenthood filed its lawsuit about a year ago.
The Montana Department of Justice said that while the state cannot prevent people from buying contraceptives, the Constitution does not require the state to subsidize it.