An incredulous federal judge on Monday rejected the state's claim that a new Kansas statute that denied Planned Parenthood federal funding did not target the group, ruling that the law unconstitutionally intended to punish Planned Parenthood for advocating for abortion rights and would likely be overturned.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten granted the request from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri for a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the law, which would require the state to allocate federal family planning dollars first to public health departments and hospitals, and leave no money for Planned Parenthood or similar groups.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the state will appeal the ruling, which orders Kansas to continue providing the federal Title X grant funding to Planned Parenthood.
Marten's order handed the state its second major setback after abortion foes succeeded in pushing through the Republican-controlled Legislature a slew of anti-abortion legislation, only to see federal judges quickly block their enforcement. Last month in a separate lawsuit, a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., also temporarily blocked stringent new abortion clinic regulations.
Planned Parenthood argued the Kansas statute is part of a national campaign to cut off the entity's federal family planning money because of its advocacy of abortion rights. A federal judge in late June put on hold on a similar measure in Indiana, and that state on Monday asked a federal appeals court to lift the judge's order. Similar actions to partially or fully defend Planned Parenthood were taken by state legislatures in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
In a legal brief filed Monday, Indiana said the issue should be decided by Medicaid officials and not the courts. The filing came just days after Indiana complied with a June 24 ruling that barred the state from cutting Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood by giving the organization a $6,000 grant. Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kate Shepherd said the organization was reviewing the filing and has 30 days to respond.
In Kansas, Marten agreed with Planned Parenthood's argument that that state's law is unconstitutional because it would impose additional restrictions on a federally-funded program, thereby violating the Supremacy Clause. He also agreed with the group's contention that the law was intended to punish Planned Parenthood for advocating abortion rights and therefore infringes on its rights of association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth amendments.
"The purpose of the statute was to single out, punish and exclude Planned Parenthood," Marten said.
Planned Parenthood had argued that that several lawmakers boasted on the floor, in news releases and in Twitter posts about defunding the group and touted the law as a victory for the anti-abortion movement. Marten, who was nominated to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton in 1995, specifically noted in handing down his decision the floor statement referring to Planned Parenthood by the legislator who proposed the language at issue.
The judge also noted that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback reportedly told to the state GOP caucus before the vote in that Kansas would become only the second state in the nation, after Indiana, to "zero out funding of Planned Parenthood."
Planned Parenthood had argued that without the injunction, it would have lost $330,000 a year in federal funding and been forced to close its clinic in the western Kansas city of Hays. It contended its 5,700 patients would face higher costs, longer wait or travel times for appointments and have less access to services.
Planned Parenthood has sued to overturn the law, and Marten's order was to remain in effect until the case is resolved.
The Title X funding at issue targets low income individuals and helps pay for reproductive health care services such as contraception, cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. No federal funds are used for abortions.
Planned Parenthood offers abortion services in Kansas only at its clinic in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb, but it also has clinics in Wichita and Hays.
The state contended the injunction was unnecessary because other entities could provide the same services Planned Parenthood offers in Wichita and Hays.
Monday's hearing was the first legal test of the statute. Planned Parenthood is challenging its constitutionality based in part on the Supremacy Clause, which prohibits states from imposing conditions of eligibility on federal programs that are not required by federal law.
Kansas has defended the statute as a matter of state sovereignty, arguing an injunction would unconstitutionally replace the state's discretion with the court's judgment.
"It appears that the Court declared a duly-enacted Kansas statute unconstitutional without engaging in the fact-finding one would expect before reaching such a conclusion," the state attorney general said in a prepared statement.
Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the judge's ruling was clear that the law was unconstitutional and enacted for the wrong purpose.
"We take comfort in the fact that the judge said we have a strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits when the full case is heard," Brownlie said.
Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for Kansans for Life, said she would have been surprised if Marten had denied Planned Parenthood anything.
"The simplified issue is whether the federal government has taken over complete control of health care allocations to benefit its own priorities, or whether the state can make its own prudent priorities," she said in a written statement.