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Court blocks Indiana defunding of Planned Parenthood

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana stepped between women and their physicians when it enacted a law that blocked Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood just because the organization provides abortions, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a lower court’s finding that Indiana violated federal regulations when it enacted a law that denied Planned Parenthood Medicaid funds for general health services including cancer screenings.

The ruling is the latest setback in conservative efforts in several states to cut off funding for abortion providers that judges say go too far, intruding on women’s right to choose their own medical care.

On Friday, a federal judge blocked Arizona from applying a similar law to Planned Parenthood. Also last week, Texas released new rules for a state women’s health program requiring officials to shut down the program entirely if a court asks the state to include providers tied to groups like Planned Parenthood. The state broke the program off from Medicaid funding after federal officials determined it violated women’s right to choose their own doctor.

And earlier this month, Oklahoma withdrew federal funding to three Planned Parenthood clinics in Tulsa that for 18 years has allowed them to provide food and nutritional counseling to low-income mothers.

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana that handled the case, said that while people often associate Planned Parenthood with abortion, it also is a critical provider of non-abortion-related health services to both women and men.

“It’s all kind of part and parcel of an attack on Planned Parenthood generally,” said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

Mallory Quigley, spokeswoman for the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said 14 states have either enacted or introduced measures to end taxpayer funding for abortion providers over the past two years.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights nonprofit whose numbers are widely respected, said the defunding laws were part of a broad attack not just on abortion but family planning.

“In 2011 we saw this just kind of tidal wave ... the most number of abortion restrictions that have ever become law,” Nash said Tuesday. “And as part of this we also saw an attack on family planning.”

Indiana Right to Life Legislative Director Sue Swayze said there was no basis for that argument.

“There’s been no discussion of contraception or birth control,” Swayze said.

Tuesday’s ruling will likely have little impact on Planned Parenthood’s operations in Indiana as funding to its clinics has been largely uninterrupted since Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law attempting to cut the organization off in May 2011. Daniels’ spokeswoman said the governor’s office would have no comment on the ruling.

Planned Parenthood immediately challenged the law with help from the ACLU. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt blocked the state from enforcing the law in June 2011.

The state appealed that order, arguing that federal law says Medicaid cannot be used to cover abortions in most circumstances and that the program indirectly funds the procedures by providing money for Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the core portion of Pratt’s order, saying the Indiana law effectively stamps on a person’s right to choose their doctors.

“The defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients’ statutory right to obtain medical care from the qualified provider of their choice,” the ruling said.

Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the Indiana attorney general’s office, said the state was reviewing the appeals court opinion. The state can either ask the full court to review the panel’s ruling or appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

“We think they should take it all the way to the Supreme Court,” Swayze said.

Tuesday’s ruling sends the case back to Pratt’s court, where she will decide whether to make the injunction blocking the law permanent. Indiana also is awaiting a final decision on a bureaucratic appeal by the agency that regulates Medicaid. A federal panel previously found the law violated Medicaid regulations.



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