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Court Temporarily Blocks Ohio From Taking Legal Action Against Planned Parenthood

December 15, 2015 — A federal judge on Monday issued a temporary injunction preventing Ohio officials from taking legal action against Planned Parenthood over rules for fetal tissue disposal, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Sanner, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/14).

Background

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) last week said an investigation in Planned Parenthood following the release of misleading videos targeting the organization's fetal tissue donation program did not find evidence that Planned Parenthood in Ohio had profited from the sale of fetal tissue. According to officials with Planned Parenthood in Ohio, the state affiliate does not donate fetal tissue.

However, DeWine said the investigation found that the organization improperly disposed of fetal tissue. The Ohio Administrative Code holds that "a fetus shall be disposed of in a humane manner," but it does not specify what is considered "humane," nor does it outline penalties for violating the code. DeWine said he would seek an injunction to block Planned Parenthood from disposing of fetal tissue in the manner identified in the investigation.

On Sunday, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state over the allegations. In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood contends that the state violated the organization's due process and equal protection rights by modifying the interpretation of the state's rules on disposing of fetal tissue without notice and then targeting Planned Parenthood unfairly. Lawyers for the organization said Richard Hodges, the state's director of health, did not act according to standard procedure, which usually entails providing notice of any alleged violations and allotting time to make corrections. According to the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood did not learn of the alleged violations until after it contacted state officials on Friday.

Planned Parenthood said the allegations are "inflammatory," politically motivated and aim to ban abortion in Ohio. The organization noted that it follows the same protocols as ambulatory surgical facilities and hospitals, which typically make arrangements with third parties for medical waste disposal. Planned Parenthood also noted that it had never received citations from the Ohio Department of Health for violating the state's regulations on fetal tissue disposal.

The organization is asking the court to bar the state from taking action against Planned Parenthood and to permit the organization to work with state officials to resolve the issue (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/14).

Latest Developments

U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus on Monday issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the state from taking any legal action against Planned Parenthood until Jan. 11. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 4.

Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, applauded the ruling, saying, "We will continue to fight back against these political attacks every step of the way and our doors will remain open to all Ohioans -- no matter what" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/14).

Conservative Lawmakers Propose Legislation for Disposal of Fetal Remains

In related news, Ohio lawmakers said they plan to introduce legislation related to the disposal of fetal tissue in the state, AP/Modern Healthcare reports.

House lawmakers said the proposals would be formally introduced when the state Legislature reconvenes in January (AP/Modern Healthcare, 12/14). One of the measures would require hospitals, clinics and other health care providers in the state to cremate or bury fetal tissue remains.

A second measure (SB 254), proposed in the state Senate, would require that a woman who has received abortion care to be asked to decide in writing whether to dispose of the fetal tissue by burial or cremation. If a woman does not make a decision, the abortion provider must choose the method of disposal and document the action taken. According to the AP/Bee, a similar measure (HB 36) was proposed in the state House prior to DeWine's announcement (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/14).

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the bills were designed to "shame women" who receive abortions. She said, "It is just the latest in the constantly changing, medically unnecessary legal hoops that abortion providers and their patients must jump through" (AP/Modern Healthcare, 12/14).