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Ohio, Planned Parenthood reach settlement in case over vague fetal tissue disposal statute

Planned Parenthood and Ohio have reached a settlement in a case regarding vaguely worded restrictions on fetal tissue disposal, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/1).

According to the Dayton Daily News, the settlement comes amid two other abortion-related lawsuits in the state: one challenging the state's efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and the second challenging the state's patient transfer agreement requirements for clinics (Callahan, Dayton Daily News, 6/1).

AG's allegations

In December 2015, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) said an investigation of 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.

Planned Parenthood sues

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state over the allegations. In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood contended 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, Ohio'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.

U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus issued a temporary restraining order that prevented the state from taking any legal action against Planned Parenthood until Jan. 11. DeWine later said the state would not enforce the vaguely worded statute and would instead work with state lawmakers to clarify the language.

DeWine's office filed a motion to dismiss Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, stating the case is moot because it has said it will not enforce the law. Separately, the Ohio House Health Committee in April advanced two bills (HB 417, HB 419) that would impose fetal tissue disposal requirements under the statute (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/19).

Settlement details

Under the settlement, the state will cover $45,447 in legal costs for Planned Parenthood. According to court documents, the case will remain under Sargus' jurisdiction through May 2018 "for the sole purpose of enforcing the settlement."

Jennifer Branch, a lawyer who represented Planned Parenthood, praised the settlement, noting that the lawsuit continued for several months because Planned Parenthood could not be sure that state officials would not try to enforce the restrictions. Branch said the settlement is a productive development, as such cases can often be "such a distraction and ... caus[e] a concern for patients and the staff" (Dayton Daily News, 6/1).