Judge Could Rule Soon on N.C. Planned Parenthood Case

August 11, 2011 — U.S. District Judge James Beaty on Wednesday heard arguments in a lawsuit over a provision in the North Carolina budget that prevents the state's Department of Health and Human Services from distributing state and federal family planning grants to Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Beaty said he would decide "shortly" whether to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the state to overturn the provision (Jarvis, Raleigh News & Observer, 8/11).

The lawsuit, which was filed July 7, alleges that the provision targets the group for supporting abortion rights and providing abortion care and, thus, is a violation of the First Amendment. The group also says the state violated the due process and equal protection clauses in the Constitution, as well as the bill of attainder clause, which prohibits lawmakers from inflicting punishment on individuals or groups without a trial.

The grants fund family planning and teen pregnancy prevention programs. The money is not used for abortion services (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/13).

During the hearing, Planned Parenthood attorney Paul Wolfson told Beaty, "There's a constitutional right not to have a government follow discriminatory or unconstitutional criteria in deciding who receives funds." The organization is not arguing that there is a constitutional right to the money but rather that it has a right not to be punished for supporting abortion rights, according to the News & Observer (Raleigh News & Observer, 8/11).

State attorneys argued that the law does not treat Planned Parenthood unfairly. They also said the organization still could apply directly to the federal government for grants. Planned Parenthood countered that it is too late to apply for grants for the state budget year that began in July.

Special Deputy Attorney General Mabel Bullock said that just because the organization received state funds in the past does not mean it is entitled to the funds (Dalesio, AP/WRAL, 8/10). She said that the state is allowed to adopt a policy favoring childbirth over abortion, which provides a legal basis to exclude any organization that offers abortion services. In addition, she said cutting off the organization's funding does not harm anyone because other providers exist. "It may be more difficult to obtain (services), but they're not being denied," she said (Raleigh News & Observer, 8/11).