Attorneys general from 16 states came out Thursday in support of a Planned Parenthood lawsuit challenging an Ohio law that would deny state and federal funds to organizations providing abortions.
The 2016 state law would not take away any money from abortion services, which are not generally covered by federal funds. Instead it would bar abortion providers and those that contract with abortion providers from receiving certain grants that pay for HIV tests, cancer screenings and infant mortality prevention.
A federal judge blocked the law from taking effect last year on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment rights of two Planned Parenthood chapters in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Health appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
On Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and his counterparts in 15 other states ― including California, Iowa and Virginia ― filed an amicus brief supporting Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio Region.
The state attorneys general argue that the Ohio law would impose an unconstitutional restriction on government funding that would violate the free speech rights of Planned Parenthood. It would also interfere with the organization’s right to provide legal abortion services and with their patients’ access to those services, the brief said.
“We won’t stand by while a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive health choices is under siege,” said Schneiderman in a statement. “Health care providers should not have to choose between protecting a woman’s right to reproductive health care, and providing other vital public health services ― yet that’s exactly what the Ohio state law, and so many other regressive measures around the country, seek to do.”
The attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia signed the amicus brief.
“Defund Planned Parenthood” has become a rallying cry for many conservatives. At least 15 states since 2009 have taken steps to cut moneys going to the organization, according to the AGs’ brief. Republicans in Congress had hoped to eliminate support for the group as part of their failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The Ohio law would have effects far beyond hurting Planned Parenthood. The Columbus Public Health Department warned last year that it would be unable to sign contracts with any of the city’s hospitals because they either provide abortion services, contract with clinics that do so or refer patients to other places where they can find such services, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
About $1.4 million is at stake for Planned Parenthood, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
More than 80,000 women and men receive services at the group’s clinics in Ohio, a spokesman told HuffPost. Planned Parenthood estimated the cuts would eliminate 70,000 screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and more than 5,000 HIV and STD tests.
“It would be devastating” if the lower court’s ruling were reversed, said Iris Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio. “We’re one of the most efficient providers of health care.”
Planned Parenthood operates 12 percent of Ohio’s community health centers, but handles more than half of the patients, according to Harvey.
The state Department of Health and Attorney General’s Office declined to comment to HuffPost. But in a February court document, they argued that Planned Parenthood has presented no evidence showing that the law would hinder its ability to provide abortions. They claim the law would have only a “limited impact” on the group’s finances and on its non-abortion services.
Although women have the constitutional right to choose, the state argued that “abortion providers have no constitutional right to perform abortions.”