This article first appeared online at Baptist Press on June 30, 2011.
Judge halts Planned Parenthood funding ban
By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal judge has blocked enforcement of portions of a new Indiana law prohibiting state-directed funding of abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
In a victory for pro-life advocates, however, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt rejected a request by Planned Parenthood to suspend a provision in the law that requires a woman considering abortion to be told “human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.”
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law May 10 expansive pro-life legislation that included the funding ban, making his state the first to enact such a legislative prohibition on money for organizations that perform or promote abortions. The law exempts hospitals and outpatient surgery centers. The measure would eliminate about $1.3 million in funds Planned Parenthood of Indiana receives each year, according to The Indianapolis Star.
Seven other states have acted to eliminate funds for Planned Parenthood. The cuts by the eight states to the country’s leading abortion provider amount to about $60 million, according to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
Pratt’s June 24 temporary injunction means the funding ban in the law will not be in effect while she considers Planned Parenthood’s legal challenge. Her comments on the prohibition did not provide a hopeful sign to its supporters. Pratt, who was nominated by President Obama, said the ban breaks federal Medicaid rules and “will enact a devastating financial toll on [Planned Parenthood of Indiana] and hinder its ability to continue serving patients’ general health needs,” The Star reported.
In her ruling, Pratt also blocked a provision that mandates doctors inform women an unborn child is able to feel pain at 20 weeks gestation.
Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said his organization is “deeply disappointed.” While Fichter expressed confidence the courts eventually will uphold the law, he said, “[I]t is troubling to know that in the meantime, Indiana is being forced to subsidize a business that profits from over 5,500 abortions every year and women are being denied key information they deserve.”
Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) expressed relief at Pratt’s decision. “This decision will have immediate, positive consequences for our patients and our organization, the state’s largest reproductive health care provider,” PPIN President Betty Cockrum said.
Of Pratt’s retention of the life-at-fertilization provision, Steven Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund said, “All the court did was recognize the indisputable fact that a biological human life begins at conception. It is false to say anything else.”
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services informed Indiana in a June 1 letter its new law restricting the use of state-directed Medicaid funds violates federal rules. While federal Medicaid money is not permitted to pay for abortions except in limited cases, a state program may not bar a qualified organization from funding because of its “scope of practice,” wrote Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in the letter.
In spite of the federal warning, Indiana said it would go forward with the ban.
The affiliates of Planned Parenthood Federation of America performed more than 332,000 abortions in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
The organization has seen its reputation damaged repeatedly in recent years. Undercover investigations in several states have revealed Planned Parenthood employees demonstrating a willingness to aid self-professed sex traffickers whose prostitutes are in their early teens. Other undercover operations have showed employees willing to cover up alleged child sexual abuse and agreeing to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies.
Planned Parenthood is battling another type of state restriction in South Dakota. On June 27, Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new state law while the organization challenges it in court, according to the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader. Earlier this year, South Dakota enacted legislation that requires a woman to visit a pregnancy help center for counseling and wait 72 hours before having an abortion. The law is scheduled to go into effect July 1. Planned Parenthood brought suit against the measure in late May.