A federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of Ohio’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood Tuesday. The 2016 law bars state funding to any healthcare organization that performs or promotes abortions. Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, had sued over the law claiming that it violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 11-6 Tuesday to overturn a previous decision by a three-judge panel in the same appeals court that said the law was unconstitutional. During his time as the state’s attorney general last year, now-Gov. Mike DeWine (R) requested that the case be heard by the full court of appeals.
Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the majority that while the law does place a condition on government funding, that condition is not unconstitutional.
“Private organizations do not have a constitutional right to obtain governmental funding to support their activities,” he argued. “The state also may choose not to subsidize constitutionally protected activities. Just as it has no obligation to provide a platform for an individual’s free speech, say a Speaker’s Corner in downtown Columbus, it has no obligation to pay for a woman’s abortion. Case after case establishes that a government may refuse to subsidize abortion services.”
“The affiliates are correct that the Ohio law imposes a condition on the continued receipt of state funds,” he added. “But that condition does not violate the Constitution because the affiliates do not have a due process right to perform abortions.”
Sutton also pointed out that Planned Parenthood has not demonstrated that the law would have an impact on a woman’s accessibility to public health programs and on the state’s abortion clinics.
“It makes these programs available to every woman, whether she seeks an abortion or not,” he wrote. “Nor, on this record, has there been any showing that the Ohio law will limit the number of clinics that offer abortions in the state.”
He added that Planned Parenthood had yet to demonstrate that the law would place an “undue burden” on abortion access.
“Its vow to keep performing abortions sinks any pre-enforcement action, and any speculation about what would happen if it changed its mind is just that,” he wrote.
Judge Helene White wrote in her dissent that the law “would result in an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain non-therapeutic abortions if imposed directly.”
She also argued that the majority “creates a loophole that enables states to circumvent the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine: the government cannot leverage its funding to carve away at constitutional rights by passing laws that target the individual who holds the right, but it can leverage funding to achieve that same result so long as it manages to find a proxy target instead.”
Pro-life advocates welcomed the decision, including Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life.
“As the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has made clear today, Planned Parenthood, America’s biggest abortionist, has no constitutional ‘right’ to offer women abortions, nor to receive public taxpayers dollars for doing so,” Glenn Foster said. “AUL applauds the court’s strong denunciation of Planned Parenthood’s ‘Big Lie’ that it represents the best interests of women when it advocates for the kind of unlimited abortion on demand that New York recently adopted, and we look forward to a similar conclusion by the federal courts affirming this Administration’s decision to keep Title X funds out of the hands of abortionists like Planned Parenthood.”