JEFFERSON CITY—Missouri lawmakers just won't give up in their attempt to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds. Earlier this year the Missouri legislature voted to deny state family planning funds to the abortion-advocacy organization for the third straight legislative session. Now, both sides of the abortion debate are awaiting results of an appeal on whether states can expressly deny funds to groups such as Planned Parenthood.
Previous legislative attempts to keep taxpayer dollars away from Planned Parenthood have succeeded in the legislature, but failed in the courts. U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitain has repeatedly ruled that the legislature's pro-life language denied Planned Parenthood's “constitutional right to equal protection.”
However, some pro-life legislators are optimistic that this year will be different. Although Judge Gaitain ruled once again in July that the legislature could not deny funds to Planned Parenthood, the state has hired an attorney to represent the pro-life legislators in an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Missouri's legislative strategy to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving any state funds earmarked for “family planning services” has been complex. This year, the state's largest pro-life group, Missouri Right to Life, opposed the bill, which eventually was approved. The group argued that since the language of the bill was essentially the same as past years, it would again be held unconstitutional. However, this year the state agreed to hire a special counsel to represent the pro-life legislators. In past years, Attorney General Jay Nixon had been accused of not defending the law strongly enough because of his pro-choice stance.
The special counsel, Jordan Cherrick, has argued that the legislature is permitted to make “value choices and moral judgments” in favoring childbirth over abortion. He also said it is impossible to separate abortion and non-abortion expenses within an organization such as Planned Parenthood.
“You've got abortion services and family planning being done by the same physicians, in the same buildings, using the same equipment,” Cherrick told Judge Gaitain. When the state pays for family planning services, Planned Parenthood can use other revenues for abortion services, he said.
According to Planned Parenthood, its Missouri clinics receive more than $1 million from the state in direct reimbursements for family planning services.
Whether an attorney who will ardently defend the pro-life language will make a difference or not is the subject of debate. Missouri Right to Life had favored a different approach, which failed in the Missouri Senate. The alternate proposal would have changed the state's current system of offering “family planning services” through private contractors such as Planned Parenthood, instead allowing the state to establish its own family planning programs through county health departments.
Susan Klein, executive director of Missouri Right to Life, said the group couldn't support a legislative proposal that would end up in the same place as past years. Instead, she said the group looked for alternative means to reach the same result.
“It is our tax money and we don't want abortion to be an option [in state-funded family planning programs],” she said. “Instead, we wanted the money to go to state-run clinics where there will be more accountability.”
Although their approach did not succeed in the legislature, Missouri Right to Life leaders are awaiting the decision from the 8th Circuit. Regardless of the ruling, however, Klein said the group is already looking at legislation for next year to remove Planned Parenthood from the state's pay roll.
“We're always hoping that the legislative process will come down on the right side,” she said. “We are already working on next year's legislation.”
Klein agreed with Cherrick's assertion that state funding of Planned Parenthood indirectly pays for abortion, regardless of Planned Parenthood's claims to the contrary.
“The money still goes in to Planned Parenthood's budget,” she said. “In a round-about way, they are still using the money for abortion.”
Targeting state funding of abortion agencies such as Planned Parenthood isn't just an issue in Missouri. The Colorado House of Representatives also considered a measure this year to deny family planning funds to organizations that perform abortions. In Colorado, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains receives about $300,000 in taxpayer funding through a state contract. The measure failed on a 43-18 vote.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin — the nation's largest Planned Parenthood affiliate — receives more than $2 million in state funds. Pro-Life Wisconsin State Director Mary Matuska said her organization supported an amendment offered to the state budget last year that would have prohibited organizations such as Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds. Instead, those funds would be funneled to government-run health centers. Although she said she would have liked to see the state “get out of the birth control business entirely,” she was still amazed at the lack of courage of some so-called “pro-life” legislators.
“It's one thing for them to stand against partial-birth abortions. That's easy,” said Matuska. “But it's another thing entirely for them to support cutting funds to the clinics where the abortions are actually performed.”
The amendment to stop state funding of Planned Parenthood supported by Pro-Life Wisconsin failed, but Matuska said the organization is watching the Missouri case closely and planning its legislative strategy for next session. She says one of the group's top priorities will be legislation targeting state funding of Planned Parenthood.
“We'll be back, but it certainly is difficult to convince legislators to support something that might be unconstitutional. We'll be awaiting the result of the Missouri appeal,” she said. “But getting the word out about the abortion agenda of Planned Parenthood is worth any legislative setback. Too many people think Planned Parenthood is squeaky clean.”
Missouri Right to Life's Klein agrees that legislative battles to prohibit tax funding of Planned Parenthood can play a crucial part of the pro-life educational process.
“We need to let the general public know how our tax dollars are being used,” she said.
Greg Chesmore writes from Bloomington, Indiana