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GOP foiled as funds flow to Planned Parenthood

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2012

Newly empowered Republicans in states across the country are pushing to kill public contracts with Planned Parenthood, only to find their efforts blocked by the Obama administration and federal courts.

In New Hampshire, the administration circumvented officials by awarding a $1 million grant directly to the nation's largest provider of abortion services after state officials blocked a grant to the organization.

Every federal district court that has ruled so far has sided with Planned Parenthood. That has helped the administration, which has threatened to cut off states' Medicaid funding if they refuse to work with the organization.

The clashes have accelerated since 2010, when the GOP swept to power in a number of state legislatures that had long been in Democratic hands.

The next fight is likely to be in Arizona. Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a bill Friday barring any public money from being funneled through the state to any abortion provider.

"This is a common-sense law that tightens existing state regulations and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions, whether directly or indirectly," Mrs. Brewer said. "By signing this measure into law, I stand with the majority of Americans who oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion."

Legislators are debating similar proposals in Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa. If all of the bills are passed, the door could open to more lawsuits that legal analysts say may wind up before the Supreme Court.

Simmering under it all are challenges in Indiana, Kansas and Texas, where district courts ruled against the states. Each of those cases is pending before appeals courts.

Pro-life groups say they are ready for a long, state-by-state fight against the administration.

"If the president wants to come in here and bully us around, he's got another thing coming," said Mike Gonidakis, director of Right to Life in Ohio, where lawmakers recently tabled legislation aiming to defund Planned Parenthood but could take it up again this session.

Some states that have tried to cut off all funding streams to Planned Parenthood are hitting legal walls when it comes to Medicaid dollars.

A federal rule says states can't withhold Medicaid funds from qualified health care providers — and district court judges in Indiana and Texas said that includes Planned Parenthood. After watching those cases, Ohio lawmakers want to avoid the same pitfalls that could open them to attacks by the administration, Mr. Gonidakis said.

Republican lawmakers in the state have introduced narrower legislation that would make it harder for Planned Parenthood to apply for federal grants under the Title X family planning program but doesn't touch their Medicaid funding at all.

"Federal law is quite clear that federal law trumps state law," Mr. Gonidakis said. "We know we're not going to pursue [Medicaid]. You learn from responses from the government what pitfalls to avoid and what to pursue, and I think you're seeing states taking best practices from all the other states that came before."

Planned Parenthood officials vow to stop them in their tracks.

"We saw the national trend and figured that it was just a matter of time before it got Ohio and, of course, it did," said Gary Dougherty, state legislative director for Planned Parenthood. "But each state is different, so we're just taking a look at what's going on in this states and trying to turn back any efforts to reduce access to women's heath care."

Republicans focused efforts on the state level after the House GOP failed last year to defund Planned Parenthood in a last-minute deal to raise the debt ceiling. So far, state lawmakers have passed bills that would strip $61.3 million from the group if they're all upheld in court, according to calculations by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

"I've been with Planned Parenthood for eight years, and this is clearly the most restrictive environment at least in those eight years I've been associated with," Mr. Dougherty said.

As the battles move to the courts, each side claims to have the legal ground.

Steve Aden, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, pointed to several cases in which courts upheld the ability of states to choose to whom they will award funds.

"These states stand on solid legal footing," he said. "What the Obama administration is doing is a good job of blowing a lot of smoke and raising a lot of confusion about the legality of these bills."

Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center, said that at least in the cases involving Medicaid funding, federal law is clear.

"It's something that some people are trying to make a political argument about, but under current law, it's hooey," Ms. Waxman said. "In this case, [the administration is] defending the current law, period."

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