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.

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