Indiana won a key victory in its fight to cut off public funding for Planned Parenthood on Wednesday when a federal judge refused to block a tough new abortion law, a move that could boost Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' image among social conservatives as he considers running for president.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied Planned Parenthood of Indiana's request for a temporary restraining order despite arguments that the law jeopardizes health care for thousands of women on Medicaid. The American Civil Liberties Union said the decision makes Indiana the first state to cut off public funding to Planned Parenthood for general health services.
Planned Parenthood said it wants to keep funds flowing while it challenges the law signed Tuesday by Daniels. The judge's decision allows the cuts to take effect immediately.
"The decision is devastating," Becky Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. "There's certainly a chance we will have to decide that we cannot see Medicaid patients unless they are able to somehow pay for their services themselves."
Pratt said the state has not had enough time to respond to Planned Parenthood's complaint and that the group did not show it would suffer irreparable harm without a temporary restraining order. A hearing was scheduled June 6 on Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction to permanently block the law, and Pratt said she will rule on the matter before July 1, when new abortion restrictions included in the law are set to take effect.
Ken Falk, an ACLU attorney representing Planned Parenthood, said the new law makes Indiana the first state to deny Medicaid funds for general health services such as breast exams and pap smears. He and Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, who represents the state in the case, said Missouri and Texas have blocked the organization from receiving Medicaid block grants for family planning.
Sue Swayze, legislative director for Indiana Right to Life, said she was thrilled with Pratt's ruling.
"This isn't about health care services," she said. "This is about abortion."
The funding cuts are part of a new law that also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
The law could improve Daniels' status among social conservatives as he considers standing for president in 2012. Advocates are touting Indiana as the one of the most "pro-life states in the nation" and have praised Daniels for signing the law.
The measure wasn't part of Daniels' legislative agenda and he didn't advocate publicly for it. But he said he supported the abortion restrictions all along and that the move to defund Planned Parenthood hadn't changed his mind.
Indiana lawmakers intended to cut all public funding, but about $1.5 in Medicaid family planning block grants flows to Planned Parenthood through a separate organization, and Fisher conceded in court Tuesday that the law does not affect those funds. The total amount of funding at issue now is about $1.4 million.
Cockrum said Wednesday's ruling means that 9,300 Medicaid patients at Planned Parenthood's 28 locations will lose services from their preferred provider, and her organization must decide soon, perhaps within days, whether it will continue to serve Medicaid patients. She rejected opponents' claims that other providers can provide the same services.
"It's going to be a rare and fortunate circumstance for the disenfranchised Medicaid patient, if in fact they can find a health care center that is close. We've got some pretty steep gas prices these days," she said.
Planned Parenthood also said it will have to stop providing intervention services to partners of persons with sexually transmitted diseases in 22 counties.
But state Sen. Scott Schneider, a Republican from Indianapolis who sponsored the measure to defund Planned Parenthood, said other health providers offer the same general services.
"The case made by Planned Parenthood is nothing more than a false alarm and their claims that women will go without health services are false," Schneider said in a statement Wednesday. "Our new law will allow Planned Parenthood to continue to receive taxpayer funding if they simply stop performing abortions. The decision is now theirs to make."
Cockrum said that was not an option, even though abortions represent only 6 percent of the procedures Planned Parenthood provides per year. It operates abortion clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville and Bloomington.
"Abortion is a constitutionally protected option for a woman, and some 10,000 or 11,000 women in the state of Indiana avail themselves of that because they determine that's the most right thing for them and for their families," she said. "It seems to me it makes sense for us to continue to offer those services."
Indiana's law also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health. That's four weeks less than previously allowed. The abortion provisions are due to take effect July 1.
AP reporter Ken Kusmer can be reached at http://twitter.com/kkusmer
Associated Press writer Deanna Martin contributed to this report