Planned Parenthood, Indiana Battle in Court Over Tax Funding

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 21, 2011   |   11:39AM   |   Indianapolis, IN

Indiana officials and Planned Parenthood did battle in a federal appeals court yesterday over whether taxpayers in the Hoosier State should be required to fund the abortion business.

After the Indiana affiliate of the abortion business refused to stop doing abortions in order to get state taxpayer funding that Indiana officials want to cut off, its attorneys defended their lawsuit to overturn the new law de-funding Planned Parenthood before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held oral arguments yesterday. Attorneys for Indiana hoped to convince the court to let the law stay in effect while the full lawsuit against it continues.

The state asked a three-judge panel to overturn the temporary injunction a federal judge put in place and it is unclear when the panel will deliver its decision. The law cuts out $1.3 million in taxpayer funding to the abortion giant, which does more abortions than any other organization.

Planned Parenthood lawyers attempted to make the case that the law runs afoul of federal Medicaid law, which it claims forbids states to arbitrarily determine the end recipients for family planning dollars under the Title X program. However, the state says the law requires it to find “qualified providers” and says dozens of other options exist for providing the federal funding through the state to businesses that don’t also do abortions.

The new state law says “to qualify to be a Medicaid provider, you can’t be an abortion provider,” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher argued, according to an audio recording the Indianapolis Star newspaper received.

“The Medicaid act specifically says, as one of the conditions of taking the money, we can set the qualifications, and that’s all this is,” he said yesterday.

Kenneth Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, argued for Planned Parenthood and the newspaper indicates at least one judge, Judge Diane S. Sykes, appeared to agree with him.

“The fact that Planned Parenthood performs abortions doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the medical process,” she said. “It’s not akin to fraud . . . The problem I have with the state’s interpretation of the phrase ‘qualified’ is that it’s infinitely elastic. It can mean anything the state wants it to mean.”

Judge Richard D. Cudahy and Judge Michael S. Kanne also heard the case.

Indiana Right to Life president Miek Fichter issued a statement to LifeNews about the hearings and said the pro-life group strongly supports the de-funding law.

“Indiana Right to Life is confident that Indiana will prevail in defending the state’s right to remove all state-directed funding from Indiana’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood,” he said. “Planned Parenthood’s refusal to separate its abortion operations from its other activities only serves to underscore that today’s hearing in federal court is all about abortion and whether taxpayers should be forced to subsidize businesses that make millions of dollars from doing them.”

Meanwhile, Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, told the newspaper the abortion business is “confident we have a solid case, one that clearly shows how the state violated both the U.S. Constitution and federal law. We look forward to proving it once again in the Court of Appeals.”

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in Indianapolis granted Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed after Republican Governor Mitch Daniels signed the law in May. Indiana has filed legal papers with a federal appeals court seeking to lift the injunction so Planned Parenthood can be de-funded while the lawsuit it filed against the state continues. The papers have the state arguing that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be the main party in the lawsuit because it involves a dispute between the state and federal government — not only one individual organization or business denied money under the law preventing funding of abortion agencies.

“This dispute belongs between the state and the federal government that administers and funds the Medicaid program, not between a private contractor and the state,” ZoAttorney General Greg Zoeller said. “The proper place to argue this dispute is the federal government’s own administrative hearing process, established for exactly this purpose. We hope the 7th Circuit will agree, reverse the U.S. District Court’s decision and allow the administrative review to run its course.”

The dispute saw the Obama administration, via the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, claim that the new law violates federal laws that it says allow the federal government to determine the final recipients of family planning dollars the state receives. The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration disagrees and has appealed a decision by CMS, and that appeal is set for a hearing on September 13 at a CMS regional office in Chicago.

The Obama administration has threatened to cut off billions in Medicaid funds if Indiana doesn’t relent, but state officials refused to back down on the new law, and continued defending it in the papers filed with the appeals court.

“If CMS continues to reject Indiana’s plan amendment and is affirmed in doing so, it will likely penalize the state by denying (again subject to judicial review) some portion of federal matching grants,” the appeal reads. “Indiana — meaning the Indiana General Assembly — will then have to decide whether disqualifying abortion clinics from Medicaid is worth whatever price CMS imposes.”

Although the state is appealing the ruling, AP indicates the state has been forced to award Planned Parenthood a $6,000 grant request because of the preliminary injunction.

When ruling in favor of the injunction, Judge Pratt wrote:  “The public interest also tilts in favor of granting an injunction,” citing the threats the Obama administration made to yank billions in federal funding from Indiana because of its decision to not fund the abortion business.

“Denying the injunction could pit the federal government against the state of Indiana in a high-stakes political impasse,” Pratt said. “If dogma trumps pragmatism and neither side budges, Indiana’s most vulnerable citizens could end up paying the price as the collateral damage of a partisan battle.”

Judge Pratt also blocked a portion of the law requiring abortion practitioners to tell women considering an abortion that their unborn child will feel pain as early as 20 weeks into pregnancy. However, she rejected Planned Parenthood’s request that a part of the law be blocked that women be told before an abortion that “human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.”

Indiana Right to Life President and CEO Mike Fichter issued a statement to LifeNews condemning the decision by Judge Pratt blocking key provisions of Indiana law that deny public funding for abortion businesses and require that women be informed about an unborn child’s ability to feel pain.

“We are deeply disappointed that today’s ruling brushes aside the will of the Indiana legislature.  This ruling opens the pipeline for our tax dollars to flow back into the hands of Indiana’s largest abortion provider and denies women seeking abortions the right to know about an unborn child’s ability to feel pain,” Fichter said. “We are confident that Indiana’s right to defund Planned Parenthood and to inform women about the facts of fetal pain will eventually be upheld in the courts, but it is troubling to know that in the meantime, Indiana is being forced to subsidize a business that profits from over 5,500 abortions every year and women are being denied key information they deserve.”

After passage of the law, the Planned Parenthood of Indiana abortion business laid off staff and cut office hoursone day later because donations failed to make up for the cut in funding after Judge Pratt initially denied the temporary restraining order.

The Obama administration filed legal papers supporting the lawsuit brought forward by the Planned Parenthood abortion business seeking to challenge the Indiana law revoking its taxpayer funding. Governor Mitch Daniels signed the law, which would cut off anywhere from $2 million to $3 million the Planned Parenthood abortion business receives in federal funds via the Indiana government through Medicaid.

In its legal papers, Indiana argues that there is “no record that Planned Parenthood of Indiana makes any effort to either segregate Medicaid reimbursements from other unrestricted revenue sources or to allocate the cost of its various lines of business, whether abortion, family planning, cancer screenings, or other services.”

“This indicates that, while PPIN may not receive Medicaid reimbursements directly related to abortions, the Medicaid reimbursements it does receive are pooled or comingled with other monies it receives and thus help to pay for total operational costs,” the state said, making it so abortions or costs related to abortions are indirectly funded. (View the full document here: Memo in Opposition to Motion for Preliminary Injunction)

In addition, the state argues that the new law serves the public interest in three ways:  the funding qualification provision prevents taxpayer dollars from indirectly funding abortions; it advances the State’s goals of encouraging women to choose childbirth over abortion, and the informed consent requirements ensure that women who choose abortion have all the information necessary to make an informed and voluntary decision.

Three pro-life legal groups have weighed in on the case — including the American Center for Law and Justice, Alliance Defense Fund and Thomas More Society — and they have said the law is constitutional.Planned Parenthood of Indiana in 2008 suspended an employee after a video showed the staffer covering up a girl’s statutory rape. The video was a part of an earlier series of undercover investigations Live Action performed with a UCLA student, Lila Rose, posing as a 13-year old girl who had sexual relations with a 31-year-old man.

On tape, the Planned Parenthood nurse acknowledges her responsibility to report the abuse, but assures the student, Lila Rose, she will not.

“Okay, I didn’t hear the age [of the 31-year-old]. I don’t want to know the age,” she tells Rose.

In other states, a federal judge has blocked a Kansas law de-funding Planned Parenthood, and New Hampshire Planned Parenthood centers may close after the state revoked a $1.8 million grant. Montana Planned Parenthood is also grappling with funding cuts and one county in Tennessee de-funded Planned Parenthood.

North Carolina may see the closing of a Planned Parenthood center following de-funding and Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin is making cuts after the abortion business lost $1 million in taxpayer funding there. Ohio lawmakers also filed a new bill to shift funding from Planned Parenthood to health departments. Planned Parenthood could lose as much as $64 million in Texas.