OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A spokesman for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday defended the state's decision to cut off federal funding for three Tulsa-area Planned Parenthood clinics in the wake of a lawsuit that alleges the action was politically motivated retaliation for supporting abortion rights.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed the federal lawsuit filed against the state's health commissioner Friday over its decision to terminate Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, contracts and the three facilities.
But Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the governor was not involved in the decision, which he said was based more on the cost-effectiveness of the clinics.
"(The health department's) explanation is that they found other service providers that can offer WIC services at more affordable rates, and the governor supports good stewardship of taxpayer dollars," Weintz said. "The question simmering below the surface is if this has anything to do with abortion, and the answer is 'no.'"
Planned Parenthood maintains that women and children who receive food and nutritional counseling at the three clinics will be irreparably harmed if the Oklahoma Department of Health pushes ahead with its decision to terminate the contracts at the end of the year. They maintain they will be forced to lay off staff members and possibly close one of its health centers in the Tulsa area. This year, the three Planned Parenthood clinics received $454,000, combined, to provide WIC services.
Health Department spokeswoman Leslea Bennett-Webb declined to comment on the suit Monday, but agency officials have said previously that the decision to terminate the contracts was based in part on Planned Parenthood's cost per participant exceeding those of other clinics in the Tulsa area and the uncertainty of future federal funding.
Planned Parenthood rejected that argument in its lawsuit, claiming the contracts were terminated "because plaintiff advocates for access to safe, legal abortion, refers for abortions, and/or affiliates with abortion providers.
"(The health department) has given a shifting hodgepodge of reasons for the termination, but each of those reasons is unsupported by the facts," the suit states
Oklahoma's Republican-controlled Legislature has a reputation of pushing some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in the country, and Planned Parenthood seems to be the latest anti-abortion target of some conservative states said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy analyst with the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group focused on sexual and reproductive health research.
"Planned Parenthood provides a wide range of services, but they've become this symbol equated with abortion services for some parts of the population," Nash said. "We're seeing very conservative policymakers essentially ignore all of the other things Planned Parenthood does, just to focus on the abortion aspect."
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy