SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge ordered Utah to keep sending money to the local arm of Planned Parenthood on Thursday amid a lawsuit over the governor’s decision to defund the organization_at least for now.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups extended his earlier decision in the group’s favor, but he said he plans to issue a longer ruling later.
The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued Gov. Gary Herbert in September, arguing his move to block $275,000 was unconstitutional and based on unproven allegations that Planned Parenthood officials in other states illegally sold fetal tissue from abortions for medical research.
The allegations came from secretly recorded videos released by a California anti-abortion group that showed Planned Parenthood officials in Texas and other states describing how they procure the tissue.
Herbert, a Republican, has said he was offended by the callousness of the discussion.
Planned Parenthood has said it only recouped expenses for providing tissue to researchers, and the videos were heavily edited. The organization announced this week that it will no longer accept any sort of payment to cover the costs of those programs, which it says only take place in California and Washington.
In Utah, Herbert blocked federal money that the state passes through to the local Planned Parenthood branch for programs that deal with sexually transmitted disease testing and sex education.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood in Utah argued in court Thursday that state health officials tried to discourage Herbert’s office from blocking the money, saying it would leave thousands of people at risk.
In court documents, they included an email from the deputy director of the state Department of Health asking department staff to come up with talking points explaining reasons why Utah shouldn’t block the funds. It was written a week before Herbert announced the funding would be pulled.
Health department staff said in other emails that ending one Planned Parenthood contract would leave about 4,400 females ages 15 to 24 without chlamydia and gonorrhea testing, and treatment for 3,725 people with those diseases would stop.
After Herbert announced he was blocking the funds, Robert Rolfs, the deputy director of the health department, said in an email to Herbert’s chief of staff and legal counsel that he was concerned Utah could not block Planned Parenthood from applying for state contracts. Rolfs noted that Utah could be sued for ending contracts and wrote, “We really don’t have good alternatives for some of the services (Planned Parenthood) is providing.”
Peggy Tomsic, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, argued that Herbert knew the fetal tissue allegations had nothing to do with Utah’s branch and the videos were edited, but he used the videos as an opportunity to target the group because he personally opposes abortion.
That’s unconstitutional, Tomsic argued, because the group has a First Amendment right to advocate for abortion rights and associate with its national partner to advocate for and provide those rights.
Tyler Green, the solicitor general for the Utah attorney general’s office, argued that contract laws allowed Herbert to cut funding due to the videos because it raised a question about whether the local branch was associating with a group that was breaking the law. He said Herbert wasn’t acting based on his personal opposition to abortion because the governor had never before tried to block government money going to the group.
Utah has decided to keep sending money to Planned Parenthood through the end of 2015. But if the judge doesn’t extend his temporary ruling to keep the money flowing, Utah can cut off the money earlier.
Utah’s move to cut off funding followed similar moves in other states against Planned Parenthood chapters. The organization has also filed lawsuits in Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana to block those states from stripping Planned Parenthood of contracts and federal money distributed by the states.
In Utah, the federal funding is a small portion of the local organization’s $8 million budget. It also receives money through federal contracts, fees from clients, insurance and contributions.