Judge blocks Ohio law to divert Planned Parenthood money
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A federal judge blocked an Ohio law aimed at diverting public money from Planned Parenthood, saying in a Friday ruling that the group stood to suffer "irreparable injury."
The state law targets the more than $1.4 million in funding that Planned Parenthood gets through Ohio's health department. That money, which is mostly from the federal government, supports certain education and prevention programs. The Ohio law would bar such funds from going to entities that perform or promote abortions.
The restrictions, which had been slated to take effect in May, were signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich during his failed presidential bid.
The state's Republican attorney general will appeal the ruling, his spokesman said.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region had sued the state, claiming the law violated their constitutional rights by denying them the funds "in retaliation for" providing abortions. The lawsuit names the state's health director as a defendant.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati sided with Planned Parenthood on Friday in granting a permanent injunction that keeps state officials from enforcing the law's provisions.
The judge said in many instances, Planned Parenthood was chosen over other entities to receive the funds as part of a competitive grant process. He said if the changes were to take effect, the group couldn't offer some free services and also would no longer have access to the juvenile justice and foster care systems to teach teenagers about healthy relationships.
If not blocked, Barrett wrote, Planned Parenthood would "suffer a continuing irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law."
The state's attorneys had argued Planned Parenthood was trying to override state policy choices, and no entity has a constitutional right to receive public money.
"Planned Parenthood supplies no basis for disturbing Ohio's legislative judgments about how to spend its public money," attorneys wrote in a court brief.
Planned Parenthood has said Ohio's law would not force any of its 28 health centers in the state to close, but the legislation would deprive thousands of patients' access to HIV tests, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and other prevention and education initiatives.
The group's attorneys argued the law was unconstitutional because it requires, as a condition of receiving government funds, that recipients abandon their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and to provide abortion services.
Planned Parenthood officials praised the decision, calling it a win for Ohioans who rely on the organization for care.
"Politicians have no business blocking patients from the care they need — and today the court stopped them in their tracks," said Iris Harvey, the head of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, women have a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood is a national target because of its role as the largest U.S. abortion provider.
Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that lobbied in support of the funding changes, said the judge's ruling violates the state's rights and the conscience rights of taxpayers.
"It is the public policy of the state of Ohio to prefer childbirth over abortion, and we should be allowed to allocate funds accordingly," said Katie Franklin, a spokeswoman.
Federal law and the laws of most states already prevent public money from paying for abortions except in rare circumstances, but the recent defunding bills prohibit state money for any services by an organization that also provides abortions.
According to Planned Parenthood, politicians in 24 states have either enacted or proposed measures since last July that target the organization with defunding.
In most of the 24 states, the cuts haven't taken effect. Some measures have been blocked by the courts or put on hold over litigation, and a defunding bill in Virginia was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
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