By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked Utah's governor from cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood in the state, which he had ordered amid a controversy over the use of fetal tissue from abortions.
A two-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision that would have let Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, halt funding to the women's health organization beginning on Jan. 1.
Herbert ordered the cut-off in August, citing secretly recorded videos that anti-abortion groups have said showed Planned Parenthood officials in Texas and other states, but not Utah, discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has said the videos were made to distort the issue of fetal-tissue donations made by the group for scientific research. It says reimbursements received to cover the costs of those donations were neither illegal nor unethical.
Herbert's order would cut off funds that Planned Parenthood uses for sex education and the testing of sexually transmitted diseases. Federal funds cannot be used for abortions, but Planned Parenthood provides abortions with other funds.
In a two-page ruling, the Denver-based U.S. appeals court said it had considered factors including the likelihood that Planned Parenthood would succeed in winning a permanent order to preserve its funding in Utah and the threat of irreparable harm to the organization.
"Based on our evaluation of those factors, we conclude an injunction is appropriate pending the court's determination of the merits," the order stated.
Jon Cox, a spokesman for Herbert, said in a statement the governor was confident the appeals court will ultimately allow Herbert to "make contract decisions on behalf on the state."
The ruling is the latest in a string of court decisions, including ones in Louisiana and Alabama, that blocked attempts this year to stop funding to Planned Parenthood.
Several Republican governors had sought to cut off funding to the organization after the release of the videos, which were made by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress.
Anti-abortion activists and their Republican allies in Congress seized on the videos to challenge Planned Parenthood's continued eligibility for federal funds.
But a federal spending bill approved on Capitol Hill in September included money for Planned Parenthood, after President Barack Obama threatened to veto any bill that would defund the organization.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)