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Blocked Planned Parenthood funding ruled unconstitutional

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COLUMBUS — A federal appeals court Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional Ohio roadblocks erected between Planned Parenthood clinics and government funding for health services.

A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling invalidating the state’s attempt to divert public funds from clinics that perform or make referrals for abortions to other health-care providers.

A federal district judge blocked Ohio’s enforcement of the law in 2016 that would have denied Planned Parenthood clinics the last $1.3 million in federal funds the state had been sending them for HIV testing, contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, sex education, and other health services not tied to abortion. 

The state maintained patients could still find these other services through programs that would receive the funding instead of Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, which runs 19 centers including one in Toledo, reported annual revenue of $26 million. Spokesman Nicole Evans said Toledo’s loss would have been about 6 percent of the $1.3 million that would have been lost in competitive grants.

That, she said, is about the cost of the 10,000 to 11,000 tests for sexually transmitted diseases that the health center performs annually.

As it cemented the injunction against the law’s enforcement, the appeals court said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office mischaracterized Planned Parenthood’s position as a claim that it was entitled to these public funds.

The attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the decision to determine whether to ask the entire 6th Circuit bench to reconsider the panel’s ruling or to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

“[Planned Parenthood acknowledges] the government’s right to define the parameters of its own programs, and have complied with all program requirements,” Judge Helen N. White wrote. “What they do claim is a right not to be penalized in the administration of government programs based on protected activity outside the programs.”

The court noted it is already illegal under Ohio and federal law for public funds to be used to pay for abortions and that the withheld funds are for other health services provided by the clinics.

“The issue in the instant challenge is … whether Ohio may require a provider to surrender the right to provide safe and lawful abortions on its own ‘time and dime’ as a condition of participating in government programs that have nothing to do with abortion,” Judge White wrote.

Three of Planned Parenthood’s clinics — in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Bedford Heights near Cleveland — perform abortions. But all Planned Parenthood locations in the state were affected by the law because they make referrals to other clinics for abortion.

“When I saw this my first thought was Mike DeWine, especially now that he’s a candidate for governor, has got to stop wasting tax dollars appealing rulings like this,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

“People should be able to make their own health-care decisions and should not be used as a political opportunity to score points with conservatives to become governor,” she said.

Ohio Right to Life, however, is counting on an appeal.

“The constitution does not give private corporations the right to taxpayer dollars,” President Mike Gonidakis said. “Planned Parenthood receives countless tax dollars a year from hardworking Ohioans, which frees up their budget to fund their real priorities — abortion on demand.”

Two of the judges who ruled in the case were appointed by Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — and the third was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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