DENVER — If anyone knows how difficult it is to defund Planned Parenthood, it’s former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane E. Norton, who has been working on it for more than 15 years.
She did it once: Back in 2001, the Republican cut off state money to Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood after an independent audit found the affiliate was violating state law by indirectly subsidizing abortions. Her decision stood until Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, restored funding in 2007.
Ms. Norton hasn’t given up. Her lawsuit filed in 2013 to stop the flow of funds to the state affiliate, which lost in October at the trial level, is now under review by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
“When I learned that Governor Ritter had, in violation of this clear constitutional language, ordered that Planned Parenthood be re-funded, my lawsuit was filed,” Ms. Norton said in an email. “The decision is now in the hands of the Colorado Court of Appeals which, I am hopeful, will do the right thing for the people of Colorado.”
As House and Senate Republicans move this week to cut off Planned Parenthood’s half-billion federal dollars, Ms. Norton’s experience is a timely reminder that taking on the 99-year-old organization isn’t a short-term project.
After being blindsided in July with the release of explosive Center for Medical Progress undercover videos linking its affiliates to fetal-tissue sales, Planned Parenthood has swung back with a political and legal counteroffensive aimed at stemming a rash of defunding efforts at the state and federal levels.
SEE ALSO: Planned Parenthood’s patients, services drop as its federal funding jumps: report
So far, it’s working. Federal judges have ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Utah, granting temporary injunctions pending lawsuits against state decisions to cancel contracts with Planned Parenthood affiliates.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley gave up the defunding fight in November after losing the first round in court and being dinged for $51,000 in legal fees. He said in a statement he was assured that the state affiliate “does not participate in the practice of harvesting organs of unborn children and receiving reimbursement.”
There was also good news for Planned Parenthood in Louisiana, where Democrat John Bel Edwards was elected governor in the Nov. 22 race to succeed one of the organization’s most outspoken foes, term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican.
While Mr. Edwards is staunchly pro-life — he has a 100 percent rating from Louisiana Right to Life and ran an ad on how he and his wife rejected an abortion after learning that their unborn daughter had spinal bifida — his position on Planned Parenthood is less clear.
During an Oct. 2 debate, Mr. Edwards said he wanted to “learn all the facts” before deciding on whether to continue Mr. Jindal’s legal battle to defund the state affiliate.
“One of the facts is Planned Parenthood does provide preventative health services, cancer screenings, breast exams, and other needed help services,” he said, according to a transcript distributed by the Louisiana Republican Party.
In October, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund sent a message to its foes by kicking off a $20 million fundraising drive for this year’s election cycle, calling it “our biggest campaign in years” while unveiling ad buys in key states.
“Make no mistake, the fight for 2016 starts today,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.
She also promised a “rude awakening” for Planned Parenthood’s foes.
If the past is any indication, nearly all of that $20 million will go to Democrats. A Fox News analysis in August found that Planned Parenthood has donated since 2000 at least $25 million to candidates, 99 percent of those Democrats, through its PACs, employees and soft-money donations.
As Ms. Norton’s experience shows, any state defunding decision may be only an election away from being reversed. A spokesman for Mr. Ritter told LifeNews in 2009 that the Colorado governor believes “it’s good public policy to prevent unintended pregnancies before they occur.”
“They throw a ton of money into [campaigns],” said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Michael J. Norton, who represents Ms. Norton, his wife, in the lawsuit. “I think it’s disgusting, quite honestly. I call it Chicago-style politics. It’s ‘Reward your friends and punish your enemies.’”
Ms. Norton’s case is rooted in the voter-approved 1984 Colorado constitutional amendment that bans taxpayer dollars from being used directly or indirectly to subsidize abortions. More than 30 states have similar laws.
Ms. Norton estimates that the Colorado affiliate has received $14.4 million in state funds since 2009.
Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood has argued that it complies with the law because it operates two corporations, only one of which provides abortion services, but Mr. Norton said the 2001 audit concluded that the abortion affiliate was paying less than market value for the shared facilities.
“They have the same space, the same staff, the same medical personnel and equipment and supplies, the same electricity and the same overhead,” said Mr. Norton, also a former U.S. attorney for Colorado.
He said Ms. Norton, who was then head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment under Republican Gov. Bill Owens, defunded the affiliate after it refused to disengage its shared facilities.
Oddly enough, Mr. Norton said, Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood never filed a lawsuit against Colorado’s 2001 defunding order.
A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Norton lost the first round of her lawsuit in 2014 after Colorado District Court Judge Andrew P. McCallin granted a motion to dismiss, ruling that no “specific abortion service” was proved to be directly state-funded. The case was argued in October before the Colorado Court of Appeals.
“This case was about politics — not about health care,” Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, told The Colorado Independent after the decision.
No matter what the appeals court’s decision, Mr. Norton said, he expects the case to go before the Colorado Supreme Court.