SALT LAKE CITY – A federal court overturned a lower court ruling Tuesday allowing Utah to block state-administered federal funding to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
The ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver states Herbert’s motives for blocking the funds were political and ultimately violated the organization’s constitutional rights. The ruling also orders funding to continue while the matter is punted back to a federal judge in Utah.
Last December the federal Utah District Court upheld Herbert’s decision to block $275,000 in contracts for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. The contracts are applied to services related to sex education and sexually transmitted disease testing.
The federal monies that go to the Utah chapter of Planned Parenthood are administered through the Utah Department of Health, the 10th Circuit judges noted in their ruling.
Those funds – the $275,000 – only represent a small part of the groups $8 million budget. It also receives money through federal contracts, fees from clients, insurance and contributions.
The governor’s order came in reaction to a series of controversial videos released by a California anti-abortion group – the Center for Medical Progress – allegedly showing national Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue for scientific research.
Herbert said the videos were “deeply troubling” in a statement from August 2015 in which he also announced he was blocking funds going to Planned Parenthood.
Utah law prohibits the use of state funds for abortions by Planned Parenthood or any other organization, Herbert said. Since certain federal grants going to Planned Parenthood are administered through the state, they were suspended per Herbert’s order.
“These funds are also prohibited from being used to perform abortions,” Herbert said in the August 2015 statement. “In light of ongoing concerns about the organization, I have instructed state agencies to cease acting as an intermediary for pass-through federal funds to Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood began offering abortions in 2011, according to the ruling, and none of the $275,000 supplied to the federal grants goes to the procedure. Abortion itself counts for a small faction of the overall services the organization provides in the state, the ruling states.
From the 10th Circuit Court ruling:
During its 2015 fiscal year, PPAU provided health care services to 46,082 patients, 46% of whom reported being uninsured. Nearly 45,000 of these total patients sought and received services unrelated to abortion, such as the provision of birth control, vasectomy, pregnancy testing, screenings for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), cancer screenings, and cancer prevention. Over 17,000 of the total patients either asked to be tested for, or were identified as at risk for having contracted, chlamydia and/or gonorrhea. Of this group, approximately 72% reported being uninsured.
The head of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah said the move amounted to retribution against an organization Herbert opposes.
CEO Karrie Galloway said Tuesday’s ruling is a victory for the clinic’s patients.
“Our doors are open today and they will be tomorrow no matter what,” she said in a statement.
Two appeals court judges wrote in Tuesday’s ruling that Herbert likely used the controversy to take a public swipe at the group because it provides abortions.
…We conclude that a reasonable (person) is more likely than not to find that Herbert, a politician and admitted opponent of abortion, viewed the situation that presented itself by release of the CMP videos as an opportunity to take public action against PPAU, deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services.
This seems especially true given Herbert’s concession that the allegations made by CMP are unproven and in fact false, and in light of the current political climate, including the efforts by abortion opponents both in the State of Utah and nationally to defund Planned Parenthood and its affiliates
The judges also said Herbert appeared to punished the Utah chapter of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah for the controversy involving Planned Parenthood as a whole.
Utah’s Planned Parenthood has not been accused of misusing funds, nor has it been an issue of complaint by the Utah Department of Health, the ruling states.
A third judge dissented from the ruling and questioned whether Planned Parenthood would ultimately prevail.
Herbert believes contract decisions should be made by the state and he is disappointed by Tuesday’s ruling, his spokesman said, adding the governor and attorney general will be considering the state’s next steps.
Lawyers for the Utah’s Planned Parenthood argued it has never participated in fetal donation programs. They also filed emails showing state health officials were concerned about defunding the programs that serve teenagers and low-income people.
State attorneys have argued the governor has the right to end contracts and that Planned Parenthood was still under a cloud of suspicion when Herbert ordered state agencies to stop acting as a pass-through for federal money.
Herbert said he was offended by the callousness of the discussion shown on the videos, which sparked uproar among Republican leaders around the country.
Several states have moved to strip Planned Parenthood of contracts and federal money, and the organization has sued in states like Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana.
While most court decisions have allowed money to keep flowing, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups in Utah decided the governor could block the money because the state has an interest in avoiding the perception of corruption.
While Waddoups acknowledged that the Utah organization has not broken any laws, he said it has associated with other Planned Parenthood entities accused of illegally selling fetal tissue to researchers for profit.
Multiple investigations by Congress and several states have cleared Planned Parenthood of illegal acts. A Texas grand jury also cleared the group and instead indicted two of the activists who made the undercover videos.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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