Planned Parenthood Funding Protected in Ohio

     CINCINNATI (CN) – A federal judge blocked the effort by Ohio’s Republican-controlled Legislature to defund facilities that provide women with legal abortions.
     Signed into law this past February, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich was still seeking the Republican nomination for president, House Bill 294 disqualifies entities that perform or promote “nontherapeutic” abortions from receiving state and federal funds for which they are otherwise eligible.
     Nontherapeutic abortion, as defined by Ohio revised code, is an abortion “that is performed or induced when the life of the mother would not be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or when the pregnancy of the mother was not the result of rape or incest reported to a law enforcement agency.”
     Two Planned Parenthood affiliates filed suit on May 11, saying the Ohio Department of Health’s interpretation of the statute effectively bars them from receiving state and federal funds necessary to provide thousands of people in Ohio with “vital nonabortion services.”
     U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett issued a temporary restraining order on May 23, blocking the state from cutting off $1.3 million in funding that Planned Parenthood’s Ohio affiliates receive under six federally funded programs.
     House Bill 294 was scheduled to take effect that same day, now codified as Ohio Revised Code 3701.034.
     “There is also no doubt that the Ohio Legislature enacted Section 3701.034 for the purpose of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking to obtain an abortion,” the 20-page opinion states.
     Barrett said Planned Parenthood’s affiliates have routinely passed audits and program reviews while providing services to Ohio Residents under federally funded programs.
     He also said there is “no dispute that plaintiffs have not used the funding they received through these programs to provide abortions.”
     Barrett concluded that Planned Parenthood’s case has a strong likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its First Amendment claims.
     “Section 3701.034 allows [the Ohio Department of Health] to leverage its control over government funds to prevent recipients of government funds from engaging in constitutionally protected speech and association, even if that speech is undertaken with private funds,” Barrett wrote.
     Crediting the due-process and equal-protection claims, Barrett also found it likely that HB 294 imposes an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.
     While enforcement of the law and the termination of federal funding could cause irreparable injury to Planned Parenthood’s Ohio affiliates and the people they serve, delaying of its enforcement would not cause any substantial harm to the Ohio Department of Health or others, according to the ruling.
     Barrett’s restraining order prohibits the Ohio Department of Health and the Hamilton County General Health District from terminating Planned Parenthood’s funding from government programs.
     It also requires the Ohio Department of Health to accept and consider without regard the nonprofit’s applications for grants and funding.
     The order will remain in effect until June 6, 2016, unless the court extends it.
     Planned Parenthood maintains that HB 294 is nothing more than retaliation for its advocacy for safe, legal abortions, and that its enforcement would significantly impair the nonprofit organization’s ability to provide vital, nonabortion health services like cancer screenings and HIV tests to Ohio residents, many of whom lack the income to obtain health care elsewhere.

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