News Law and Policy

Divided Appeals Court Says Kansas Can Defund Planned Parenthood

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's order and ruled the State of Kansas can enforce a 2011 law that strips Planned Parenthood of Title X funds while a legal challenge proceeds.

On Tuesday, a divided federal appeals court in Denver overturned a lower court’s order and ruled Kansas can strip Planned Parenthood clinics in the state of federal family planning money while the health-care organization’s lawsuit challenging the move proceeds.

At issue in the case is funds distributed to the state under Title X, a federally funded family planning program; the funding is designed to provide reproductive health-care services, such as contraception, cancer screenings, pregnancy testing, and treatment for sexually transmitted disease. Federal law specifically prohibits Title X dollars from being used for abortion services.

Despite the fact that federal law already bans the use of Title X dollars for abortion services, Kansas, Arizona, Texas, and several other states run by conservatives have passed laws designed to strip local Planned Parenthood health-care centers of funding because the organization generally advocates for abortion rights. Specifically, the Kansas law requires the state to first allocate Title X money to public health departments and hospitals. That leaves no funding left for family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood clinics in Wichita and Hays, neither of which provides abortion services.

In 2011, shortly after the law was passed, Planned Parenthood sued, arguing the law violated Title X and the organization’s First Amendment rights. After a hearing, U.S. District Court J. Thomas Marten blocked enforcement of Kansas’ law, ruling Planned Parenthood was likely to succeed on its claims the law violated its First Amendment rights and that the law also violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it placed additional requirements on entities in the state to qualify for federal funding and that the law was likely to be overturned. The lower court ordered Kansas to continue funding Planned Parenthood until the case was resolved.

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But Tuesday, a 2-1 panel on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, holding that Kansas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood while the case proceeds. The decision is not a final ruling on the merits of the case, but instead sends the case back to the lower court for further consideration. Planned Parenthood can appeal the decision to the full-panel of judges on the Tenth Circuit for rehearing.

According to Planned Parenthood, its nonprofit health-care centers in Kansas have cared for more than 5,700 people each year through the Title X program. Despite the loss, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, vowed to press on. “Regardless of what happens in the courts, Planned Parenthood will be here for the women and men who rely on us and we will continue to fight for them—no matter what,” Richards said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood’s doors remain open in Kansas and in more than 700 health centers across the country. We will explore every possible option to protect the health of women in Kansas.”

So far, federal courts have largely turned back state attempts to strip Planned Parenthood of Title X funding. Arizona’s efforts were rejected by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a similar Indiana law. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review either the Ninth Circuit or the Seventh Circuit decision.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

News Law and Policy

Texas Court Greenlights Discrimination Against Transgender Students

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling was not a decision on the merits of the Obama administration’s policy, but rather whether it followed the correct procedure in crafting it, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote.

A federal judge in Texas on Sunday issued a preliminary injunction barring the Obama administration from enforcing guidelines designed to protect transgender students from discrimination in schools.

The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuitTexas v. United States, challenging the Obama administration’s guidance to schools that receive federal funding that transgender students must be given access to bathrooms that align with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

Schools that defy the White House’s guidance would face potential loss of funding or federal lawsuits.

The lawsuit brought by Texas and states including Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, targets various federal memos and statements that served as the foundation for the administration’s position that the Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 federal ban on sex discrimination encompasses gender identity discrimination. The administration charges that transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

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The administration overstepped its authority in issuing the statement in violation of both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, according to the states challenging the guidance.

A nearly identical lawsuit challenging the White House’s policy was filed recently by the state of Nebraska. That lawsuit was joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the administration failed to engage in the proper administrative rule making process when directing schools to not discriminate against transgender students in access to restrooms and facilities. The ruling, O’Connor wrote, was not a decision on the merits of the administration’s policy, but rather whether it followed the correct procedure in crafting it.

“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor said in his ruling. “The resolution of this difficult policy issue is not, however, the subject of this order.”

Sunday’s ruling comes shortly after the Supreme Court put on hold a federal appeals court ruling ordering a Virginia county school board to allow a transgender student access to the restroom that aligned with his gender identity.


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