Judge sides with Planned Parenthood in lawsuit against Utah

AP News
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Posted: Sep 29, 2015 3:39 PM
Judge sides with Planned Parenthood in lawsuit against Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A judge on Tuesday blocked an order issued by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to cut off federal money going to Planned Parenthood in the state after the release of secretly recorded videos by a California anti-abortion group.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued the temporary restraining order during a hearing, allowing the money to keep flowing while the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah seeks a longer-term injunction.

Planned Parenthood sought the emergency order a day after suing Herbert. It said some programs would have expired Wednesday if the money was blocked.

Herbert acted on his personal and political agenda when he cut off funding to the organization following the release of the videos, said Peggy Tomsic, a lawyer for the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.

The videos show Planned Parenthood officials in Texas and other states describing how they provide fetal tissue from abortions for medical research. Herbert said he was offended by the "casualness" and "callousness" of the discussion.

Planned Parenthood in Utah was targeted based on the questionable videos that the governor knew had nothing to do with the group in the state, Tomsic said.

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.

The videos also have sparked a budget fight in Congress, where conservatives are trying to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Tyler Green, solicitor general for the Utah attorney general's office, said in court that Gov. Herbert has not claimed that any Utah Planned Parenthood officials were involved in the fetal tissue discussions.

However, Herbert was concerned that the national Planned Parenthood organization may be "coloring outside the lines," Green said.

The remark prompted the judge to ask, "Don't you find it troubling that the governor decided to take this action before this investigation into the supposed activity outside the lines has even been completed?"

The judge likened the move to the state firing an employee because someone claimed they had seen the worker with a gang member.

Waddoups noted, however, that the governor had not claimed that the Utah group broke the law and understood that the more than $200,000 in federal money involved goes toward activities such as testing for sexually transmitted diseases and abstinence education.

The organization is barred from using federal or state money for abortions.

Tomsic argued that the constitutional rights and reputation of Planned Parenthood in Utah would be harmed and those programs would stopped — risking an increase in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases — if the governor's order was not reversed.

Tomsic told reporters after the hearing that the programs are critical for high-risk and underserved people, and about 50,000 people a year take advantage of the services across Utah.

"Those are the people who are really getting hurt for political reasons," Tomsic said.

Outside court, attorneys for the state declined to comment on the ruling or say if they would look for another way to block the money.

Herbert's spokeswoman Aimee Edwards issued a statement later saying the governor stands by his action despite the judge's ruling.

Planned Parenthood has said it acted legally and the videotapes were deceptively edited.

In Utah, the federal funding is a small portion of the local organization's $8 million budget, Utah's Planned Parenthood CEO Karrie Galloway has said. It also receives money through federal contracts, fees from clients, insurance and contributions.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice .