CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly named Judy Waxman of the National Women’s Law Center.
What started out as an amendment on the House floor to defund Planned Parenthood has made its way to key battleground states in the 2012 presidential election, with Wisconsin poised to become the fourth state to choke off funding for the women’s health provider.
Although state attempts to keep federal funds from Planned Parenthood might not be legal, it might not matter in the end. Abortion-rights advocates say that the goal is to keep money from Planned Parenthood long enough to score political points and potentially shut down the organization.
“It is clearly a mean-spirited attempt to close down Planned Parenthood,” said Judy Waxman of the National Women’s Law Center. “They want to starve them this way or that way, and that’s it.”
Federal funds may not be used to perform abortions, and Planned Parenthood says it uses government money only to provide family planning and other medical services, such as cancer screenings. But antiabortion advocates say that the federal money the group does receive is financing abortions indirectly.
The Wisconsin Senate passed a budget on Thursday prohibiting state and federal money from going to Planned Parenthood clinics. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law. Earlier this week, North Carolina’s Legislature voted to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a state budget that explicitly says Planned Parenthood clinics cannot receive grants.
Indiana voted in May to strip Medicaid dollars from clinics that provide abortion services, effectively targeting Planned Parenthood clinics. Kansas followed suit weeks later, with GOP Gov. Sam Brownback signing a bill that strips the group of federal family-planning grants.
Planned Parenthood has taken Indiana to court, and the federal government backed the group on Thursday night, filing a brief contending that the state is violating the law. It calls on the court to order an injunction that would force the state to start repaying Medicaid money to the clinics.
“Preliminary injunctive relief is warranted here not only because Indiana’s law violates the Medicaid statute but also because injunctive relief is in the public interest.… [it] will prevent further injury to Indiana’s Medicaid beneficiaries,” the Obama administration argued in the brief.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Pratt is expected to rule on the injunction by July 1. The state has until next Friday to respond to the federal government’s brief. Indiana’s Planned Parenthood is currently treating Medicaid patients using money from private donations.
In North Carolina, the Legislature did not touch Medicaid benefits. Instead, the bill explicitly prohibits Planned Parenthood from receiving federal dollars through a family-planning grant program. But that doesn’t mean the federal government won’t be able to step in.
North Carolina is still finalizing its 2011 grant agreement with the Health and Human Services Department over how the state will use federal family-planning dollars. “We’ve always been listed as a grantee,” said Paige Johnson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in North Carolina. “Without us, they will not have enough providers to serve the community. We help bolster their application.”
HHS says it needs to review the state’s new law before it can determine how to proceed.