Planned Parenthood sues the state over defunding legislation

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri is fighting back in court against the Kansas Legislature and the governor, who stripped the organization of federal family planning funds because of its affiliation with abortion services.

The organization filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to force the state to restore about $330,000 that used to provide birth control and other reproductive health services at clinics in Wichita and Hays.

The Wichita clinic serves about 4,700 clients a year, mostly women but some men, while Hays serves 960, said Peter Brownlie, Planned Parenthood’s president and chief executive officer.

In addition to birth control, the clinics provide screening for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer. They do not provide abortions, though a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park does.

Brownlie said the federal money represents about one-third to one-half of the clinics’ funding. The group intends to keep the clinics open, but loss of the money would likely lead to ending a sliding fee scale that provides care for poor people at lower cost, he said.

The funding comes from the federal government and is administered by the state.

Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the new provision into law May 28 as part of the budget bill, issued a statement saying he will uphold it.

“The law currently says the plaintiff (Planned Parenthood) does not qualify for public subsidy because of its business practices,” the statement said. “And Kansas taxpayers made it clear they do not wish to underwrite organizations that perform abortions.”

“That’s what makes it absurd and outrageous,” said Brownlie. “If Gov. Brownback and his allies in the legislature were serious about reducing abortions in Kansas, they would work to prevent unintended pregnancies. About half of them result in abortions.”

The new law does not specifically name Planned Parenthood, but changed the way the state prioritizes funding to shift the dollars away from clinics that are primarily focused on reproductive medicine.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is charged with finding alternate providers for the Title 10 funds. Likely providers are public health clinics, hospitals and federally qualified health centers.

During debate in the House, advocates said the purpose of the change is to prevent abortion opponents from indirectly supporting abortions with their tax dollars.

Planned Parenthood’s suit said a press release by Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who sponsored the funding amendment on the House floor, had made it clear that the bill’s purpose was to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

“The press release summarized the events of the day, February 8, and stated that an ‘amendment, offered by Representative Kinzer and approved by ninety-one members, took all state funding away from Planned Parenthood to ensure that state dollars are not used for abortion services,’” the lawsuit said.

The suit alleges the Kinzer amendment violates the Constitution’s supremacy clause by putting eligibility requirements on funding that are “in excess of and inconsistent with” federal law.

In addition, the suit alleges that it a violates Planned Parenthood’s First Amendment rights “by imposing a penalty on its association with providers of abortion services and/or its advocacy for access to abortion services.”

Kinzer did not return messages left at his office, home and e-mail address Monday.

The Title 10 Family Planning program was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1970 as Title 10 of the Public Health Service Act. It funds family planning and related preventive health services for people from low-income families. None of it goes for abortions.

Kansans for Life, the state’s dominant anti-abortion group, issued a statement saying that it agreed with the Legislature that the money should go to comprehensive clinics.

“Federal tax dollars benefit any organization that receives them — beyond what they are specifically appropriated for — because they free up other income and donations to fulfill the organization’s other mission or services,” Executive Director Mary Kay Culp said in a statement. “Kansas has every right to insure that Title 10 monies are directed to the provision of family planning at full-service county health clinics before abortion clinics, which financially benefit when their efforts at pregnancy prevention fail. This wish by taxpayers not to subsidize Kansas abortions should be lauded and honored, not sued.”

Neither the Wichita nor Hays clinics provide abortions, but Planned Parenthood operates facilities in the Kansas City area that provide both surgical and pill-induced abortions.

The Wichita and Hays clinics will provide referrals to abortion providers, prenatal care or adoption agencies, based on the client’s preference of how to proceed with a pregnancy, Brownlie said.

However, he said, the federal funds the group received for Wichita and Hays did not subsidize other Planned Parenthood operations, because both clinics operate at a loss and are themselves subsidized by the organization.

The local clinics have been receiving funds under the federal Title 10 program for more than 25 years, he said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the department will need to review the state’s new law before it can determine how to proceed.

The regional Planned Parenthood is hoping to duplicate the success of its sister organization in Indiana.

There, a judge has issued a preliminary injunction to block a new state law to deny Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood of Indiana, saying the law violated federal law.

Medicaid officials have said Indiana violated federal Medicaid law by imposing impermissible restrictions on the freedom of beneficiaries to choose their health-care providers.

Although the sources of federal funding are different in the Indiana and Kansas cases, “we think the same principles apply and we hope the federal judge in this case will come to the same conclusion,” Brownlie said.

A hearing date has not been set yet.