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Appeals Court Blocks Utah From Defunding Planned Parenthood

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Tuesday’s ruling reverses the lower court decision that had originally allowed Gov. Gary Herbert to block funding to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, guaranteeing that the funding will continue while the litigation proceeds.

A federal appeals court Tuesday blocked efforts by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) and his administration from cutting off state funding to Planned Parenthood.

Herbert was one of several Republican governors who tried to cut funding to the reproductive health-care organization following the release of heavily edited videos by David Daleiden and his anti-choice organization, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Daleiden and CMP claimed the videos showed Planned Parenthood officials illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

Despite more than a dozen investigations, no evidence of any wrongdoing or illegal activity by Planned Parenthood officials has ever surfaced.

In August 2015, following the release of the CMP videos, Herbert instructed the Utah Department of Health to stop administering grants to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) in light of “ongoing concerns about the organization” as a result of the widely discredited attack videos. PPAU then sued Herbert in September, arguing that the governor’s decision to block federal funds from passing to the health-care organization was unconstitutional and politically motivated.

The federal court in Utah initially sided with Planned Parenthood, issuing a temporary restraining order preventing Herbert from discontinuing the funds. But the court then reversed course. PPAU appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an emergency order blocking Herbert from cutting off funding while the lawsuit moved forward in court.

Tuesday’s ruling reverses the lower court decision that had originally allowed Herbert to block funding to PPAU, guaranteeing the funding will continue while the litigation proceeds.

In its ruling, a panel of the Tenth Circuit wrote that it appeared the governor’s decision to block funding was unlawfully driven by his opposition to abortion. “Considering all of this evidence together, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert issued the Directive to punish PPAU for the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights it has identified in this litigation,” the court wrote.

“In particular, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact 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,” the court continued.

“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 court concluded.

“You cannot hide behind lies in order to harm women,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a statement following the decision. “That’s why these attacks on access to reproductive health care continue to fall one by one.”

In a statement, Herbert’s spokesman Jon Cox said the governor was disappointed with the court’s decision, suggesting that the administration could ask the full Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case. “He believes that it is in the public’s best interest to allow state officials to make contract decisions on behalf of the state, rather than a distant federal court,” Cox said. “The governor will work with the attorney general to review the court’s decision and determine the best course of action moving forward.”

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