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Federal judge temporarily blocks enforcement of Ohio law that cuts Planned Parenthood funding

A federal judge on Monday issued a restraining order that blocks Ohio from enforcing a state law that cuts funding from the organization, Reuters reports (Palmer, Reuters, 5/23).

The order will remain in effect for two weeks, though it may be extended. The court also could grant Planned Parenthood's request for a permanent injunction against the law (Franko/Sanner, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/23).

Background

In February, Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a bill (HB 294) that was proposed in response to a series of misleading videos targeting the organization's fetal tissue donation program.

According to a Planned Parenthood official in Ohio, the organization does not participate in a fetal tissue donation program in the state. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio (PPGO) has 28 clinics in the state, including three facilities that provide abortion care. Overall, PPGO serves about 80,000 patients.

According to Planned Parenthood, 24 states have enacted or proposed similar measures targeting the organization. While most have not taken effect, legislation was enacted recently in Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has warned officials in every state that efforts to cut abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, out of Medicaid could violate federal law. Officials in 12 states have blocked efforts to defund the organization.

Law details

The Ohio law cuts $1.3 million in public funding from abortion providers. Specifically, under the legislation, organizations that provide or advocate for abortion care, are affiliated with organizations that provide or advocate for abortion care, or have contracts with organizations that provide abortion care are not eligible to receive the funding.

The state Department of Health distributes grants to programs for federal- and state-funded breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV testing, and programs on infant mortality. The overall amount of funding will remain intact under the law, but it will be redirected to other entities.

The law was set to take effect on May 23 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/12). Ohio health officials have struggled to contract with alternative providers ahead of the law's implementation date (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/19).

Lawsuit details

In a lawsuit filed against Ohio's health director, PPGO and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region (PPSWO) alleged that the law violates their constitutional rights by defunding them "in retaliation for" offering abortion care. Attorneys for PPGO and PPSWO said the law "exacts an extreme punishment -- total disqualification -- even though the funds at issue have nothing to do with abortion."

Planned Parenthood officials said the state violated the U.S. Constitution by treating the organization differently than other health care entities. According to the filing, the legislation would "constitute an undue, constitutionally intolerable burden on the abortion rights of Ohio women."

PPGO and PPSWO noted that the law would not close down any of the organization's 28 clinics in the state, but it could block thousands of patients from accessing cancer screenings, testing for HIV and other health care services. The lawsuit stated, "Even if other health care providers are eventually able to provide similar services, many patients' health care and access to other services will be disrupted because other providers are not prepared to assume responsibility for those services" (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/12).

Temporary stay to block law

In issuing the stay, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett wrote that state lawmakers in passing the law aimed to make it harder for a woman to access abortion care.

According to Barrett, under the Ohio law, Planned Parenthood would be "forced to end health care and education programs and terminate employees, depriving thousands of Ohioans of high-quality, affordable health care services and education programs" (Reuters, 5/23).

Planned Parenthood responds

Planned Parenthood officials praised Barrett's ruling (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/23). PPSWO CEO Jerry Lawson said, "This ruling is a victory for the tens of thousands of Ohioans [who] rely on Planned Parenthood for care each year" (Reuters, 5/23).

Lawson also criticized state lawmakers who supported the law, noting, "If you have a lump in your breast or need an HIV test, lawmakers should be making it easier, not harder, to get the care you need" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/23).