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Judge Says Utah Can Block Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood Amid Ongoing Lawsuit

December 23, 2015 — A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that Utah can end federal funding for the Planned Parenthood affiliate in the state while the organization’s lawsuit proceeds, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Price, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/22).

Background

Over the summer, the antiabortion-rights group Center for Medical Progress released a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood. Following the release of the videos, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) ordered the state Department of Health to stop distributing federal funding to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. In response, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against Herbert, asking a federal judge to rule that the governor's orders violate Planned Parenthood's constitutional rights to due process and free speech.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order on Herbert's decision through Oct. 15, ruling that Herbert's actions seem "to have been made on unconstitutional grounds" because there have been no allegations that Planned Parenthood of Utah broke any laws. Further, Waddoups agreed with Planned Parenthood's arguments that cutting off the organization's federal funding would curb women's access to reproductive health care, particularly among low-income women.

In October, Waddoups said he would extend a temporary restraining order until he issued a written ruling on a request from Planned Parenthood to bar Utah from blocking the funding (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/16).

Latest Developments

Waddoups on Tuesday reversed his prior decision and ruled that Utah could end $275,000 in federal funding to Planned Parenthood, while the organization continues its lawsuit against the state. The organization uses the funds for sexuality education and testing for sexually transmitted infections. Tom Hudachko, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health, said the Planned Parenthood contracts will continue through the end of the year.

In his decision, Waddoups said while Planned Parenthood in Utah had not committed any wrongdoing, the organization was associated with other Planned Parenthood affiliates who face allegations of illegal actions. According to the AP/Bee, the federal government and several states have launched investigations in the organization following the videos' release, and none of the investigations that have concluded have found that Planned Parenthood committed any of the illegal activities alleged in the footage.

Waddoups wrote that the state has an interest "in avoiding the appearance of corruption," noting that Utah residents could potentially perceive a continued relationship between the state and Planned Parenthood as approval of wrongdoing. He added that any harm resulting from ending the contracts with Planned Parenthood is outweighed by potential harm to the state if it is barred from ending contracts at will.

Comments

Helene Krasnoff, senior director for litigation and law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Waddoups' decision is "a bit of an outlier" because all other judges ruling on similar cases in different states have issued decisions in favor of Planned Parenthood. According to the AP/Bee, officials in other states have blocked state efforts to target Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding, which Utah has not done.

Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said the ruling was "regrettable." She said PPAU will continue its lawsuit against the state and will consider "every possible way to continue the critical health care and education programs that are at risk ... We are committed to providing trusted health care and education that Utahns rely on us for -- no matter what" (Knox, Salt Lake Tribune, 12/22).

Separately, Herbert said he would work with state health officials to ensure state residents' continued access to STI services and sexuality education (AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/22).