The fight to provide low-income women in Oklahoma with access to affordable health care and social services continues. Planned Parenthood has filed suit against the head of the Oklahoma Department of Health over the agency’s decision to cut federal funding for three clinics in the Tulsa area that provide food and nutritional counseling to low-income mothers.
According to the complaint, the health department’s “hodgepodge” of reasons for ending the contract amount to nothing more than an attempt at political cover. Officials for the program cited its relatively high cost per participant and decrease in case loads and accused the clinics of faulty billing practices. The clinics targeted for funding cuts see approximately 3000 clinic visits related to the Women, Infant, and Children program that provides supplemental nutritional assistance to low-income women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, as well as to children younger than five years of age.
At the time the decision was made to cut the funding, WIC visits were actually on the rise. The clinics are also routinely audited and, according reports, non of those audits raised any concerns prior to the decision to end the contract.
The lawsuit raises constitutional claims, arguing the state violated the organizations First and 14th Amendment rights by “imposing a penalty on its advocacy for access to safe and legal abortion services, referrals for abortion and/or its association with abortion services.” Clinics have until the end of the year before the funding stream runs out.
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“Planned Parenthood has been a trusted WIC provider for nearly two decades – but this case isn’t about us, it’s about the Oklahoma women and families who count on us,” Planned Parenthood staff attorney Tamya Cox said in a statement. “Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to health services – or food for her children.”
In May 2011 state legislators attempted to remove Planned Parenthood as a state WIC provider, with supporters of the bill arguing that no taxpayer dollars should go to Planned Parenthood. The measure ultimately failed so the state simply decided to end the contract and face a legal challenge instead.
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, barring the state from terminating the WIC contract.