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Federal judge says Ohio's law to block Planned Parenthood funding unconstitutional

by Marc kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published: August 15, 2016 2:11 PM

Columbus -- A federal judge on Aug. 12 permanently barred state officials from enforcing a new state law that blocked funding for cancer screenings and other services for groups that perform or promote abortions.

Judge Michael R. Barrett from U.S. District Court for Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, ruled the Republican-backed law changes finalized earlier this year were unconstitutional, violating the First and 14th amendments.

He wrote, "/ 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 Section 3701.034 is not permanently enjoined, plaintiffs will suffer a continuing irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law."

In February, lawmakers gave their final approval and Gov. John Kasich subsequently signed into law legislation requiring the Ohio Department of Health to ensure public funds are being used for their intended purpose -- the legislation lists breast and cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS initiatives and other specific programs -- and not for abortions.

The legislation called for blocking funding from specified programs to groups that perform abortions or have contracts or are affiliated with providers of such services.

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Proponents of the legislation said it would not have cut funds for women's health programs; money would instead be directed to health care centers that do not perform non-therapeutic abortions.

But opponents countered that there are not sufficient locations around the state providing contraception and other health care services currently offered by Planned Parenthood. The latter had received more than $1 million in 2014 in public funding through the state health department.

According to documents, Planned Parenthood operates 28 health centers around the state, three of which provide abortion services. The group has provided "vital health services in the communities they serve" and has "routinely passed audits and program reviews and received praise from program administrators," plaintiffs argued in the filings.

Planned Parenthood of Greater of Ohio filed suit against the state health director to block the state law from taking effect, arguing that the state law changes were "unconstitutional because as a condition of receiving government funds, recipients must abandon their right to free speech and association protected by the First Amendment and their right to provide abortion services protected by the Due Process Clause."

Judge Barrett agreed with Planned Parenthood's arguments and "permanently restrained and enjoined" the Ohio Department of Health and other state officials from enforcing the new state law.

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The decision drew cheers from women's health advocates.

Iris E. Harvey, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said in a released statement, "Today's ruling supports the rights of all Ohioans to access needed health care. This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care -- this law would have made a bad situation worse. Politicians have no business blocking patients from the care they need, and today the court stopped them in their tracks."

And Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, added in a separate statement, "The defunding law in Ohio would have stopped Planned Parenthood from providing HIV tests, cancer screenings and assistance for poor mothers with newborn infants. This is the most calculated and dishonorable effort to try to stop Planned Parenthood from offering safe and legal abortion."

Opponents of abortion, however, said they expected the ruling to be overturned on appeal.

"Judge Barrett's decision is a clear violation of states' rights and the conscience rights of taxpayers," Katie Franklin, spokeswoman for Ohio Right to Life, said in a released statement. "It is the public policy of the state of Ohio to prefer childbirth over abortion, and we should be allowed to allocate funds accordingly. Planned Parenthood has no constitutional right to the hard-earned dollars of taxpayers, millions of whom have deep and abiding objections to the corporation's pro-abortion business model."

She added, "Ohio has hundreds of free to low-cost women's health care providers that don't perform abortions, yet we are forced to subsidize one that does. In 2015, Planned Parenthood performed 323,999 abortions, all while receiving $553.7 million in taxpayer dollars. That accounts for an obscene 42 percent of its total revenue."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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