RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - A federal judge in North Carolina halted enforcement on Friday of part of the state budget that blocks government funding to Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions.
Planned Parenthood, which called the ruling a victory for women, asked the court in July to stay the measure that denies it state and federal funds used to subsidize family planning services and to provide teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Judge James A. Beaty Jr. ruled that the budget measure appeared to be unconstitutional, writing that it seemed to have been "adopted specifically to penalize Planned Parenthood for its separate abortion-related activities."
The North Carolina measure is part of a national effort by abortion foes to defund Planned Parenthood's health and family planning operations in response to the organization's abortion services. Under current federal law, Planned Parenthood already cannot use government funds to provide abortions.
"While the state is free to limit funding for particular projects, including limiting funding for abortion services, that does not leave the state free to restrict a particular grantee from receiving any funding for other eligible projects," Judge Beaty wrote in his ruling.
Anti-abortion activists who supported the measure including North Carolina Right to Life could not be immediately reached for comment.
North Carolina is one of a handful of states that has cut funds for Planned Parenthood over abortions. But judges in both Indiana and Kansas have issued similar injunctions to Beaty's in recent months blocking those states from cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood clinics.
North Carolina also passed a law last month requiring women in the state to wait 24 hours and be presented with an ultrasound image of their fetus before an abortion, overriding a veto by Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue.
A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said Friday's temporary ruling had lifted the group's confidence that it would prevail in the budget case, but did not know when a final ruling might be issued.
"This is a tremendous win for women in North Carolina, and we feel confident we will win in the end and our patients will continue coming to us for basic health," said Paige Johnson, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.
One of two Planned Parenthood affiliates operating in the state, the group received about $212,000 of state and federal funds in the year ended June 30 to fund programs at its clinics in Fayetteville, Chapel Hill and Raleigh.
During that year, the three Planned Parenthood clinics provided family planning and reproductive health exams to almost 7,000 women, Planned Parenthood said.
Planned Parenthood Health Systems, the other North Carolina affiliate, receives $32,000 of state funds to provide long-acting contraceptives to low-income women such as IUD's and $60,000 in Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative funding.
(Additional reporting by Ned Barnett. Writing by Cynthia Johnston. Editing by Peter Bohan)