By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge on Tuesday to stop Oklahoma from blocking it from participating in a federally funded nutrition program that helps poor women and children at three clinics in the Tulsa area.
The request, filed in federal court in Oklahoma City, appeared aimed at combating a move similar to those taken by conservative Republicans in more than a dozen states over the past two years to eliminate funding for health services provided by Planned Parenthood.
The non-profit women's health organization has administered a federal program called Women, Infants & Children for 18 tears in Oklahoma's Tulsa County, but the state health department said in September it would let other clinics provide the services, blocking Planned Parenthood from taking part.
That decision followed a failed attempt in the Republican-controlled Oklahoma legislature in May to prohibit WIC benefits from being administered by Planned Parenthood because it provides abortion referrals.
The state health department has denied its decision was tied to Planned Parenthood's position on abortion, citing decreasing caseloads, high costs and billing questions with the Planned Parenthood clinics as reasons for its decision. State health officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that examines public policy, has called the health department's reasons inaccurate.
Planned Parenthood attorney Tamya Cox said the group was seeking the injunction to protect access to nutritional services for about 3,000 women and children that used the three clinics in September.
The group's request said that other clinics in Tulsa County can't absorb the caseload that the Planned Parenthood clinics handled and that there was a three-month waiting list to make an appointment at the other clinics.
"Politics should never interfere with a woman's access to health services - or food for her children," Cox said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)