U.S. appeals court says Ohio cannot block Planned Parenthood funds

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked an Ohio law that would cut federal taxpayer funding to 28 Planned Parenthood clinics, holding that conditions it imposed that denied funds to abortion providers were unconstitutional.

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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld a lower-court judge’s ruling enjoining a law Republican Governor John Kasich signed in 2016 that would strip funding that Planned Parenthood received for non-abortion services.

The law would have affected funding for Planned Parenthood programs for mothers’ and infants’ health, HIV counseling and testing, and sex education. Planned Parenthood offers abortions in some of its Ohio clinics, but not all of them.

According to court papers, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Southwest Ohio said they stood to lose nearly $1.5 million in funding annually if the law took effect.

“We are thrilled that today’s decision will safeguard our patients’ access to care,” Jerry Lawson, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, said in a statement.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who defended the law in court, said his office was reviewing the ruling to determine whether to seek further appellate review.

The lawsuit was one of several pursued by Planned Parenthood over access to healthcare at its centers since 2015, when anti-abortion activists began releasing videos purporting to show group officials negotiating prices for aborted fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has called the videos heavily edited and misleading and says at least 13 states that investigated those claims have cleared it of wrongdoing.

The law at issue in Wednesday’s ruling required the Ohio Department of Health to ensure that funding it received through six non-abortion-related federal programs was not used to fund any entity that performs or promotes non-therapeutic abortions.

Ohio argued that Planned Parenthood was seeking a constitutional guarantee to public funding that does not exist. But U.S. Circuit Judge Helene White said the two Planned Parenthood affiliates in the case claimed no such thing.

“What they do claim is a right not to be penalized in the administration of government programs based on protected activity outside the programs,” she wrote for the three-judge panel.

White said the law had violated Planned Parenthood’s due process rights by requiring a health care provider surrender its right to provide legal abortions as a condition of participating in programs that have nothing to do with abortion.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Richard Chang and Dan Grebler