WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Kansas can strip two Planned Parenthood clinics of federal family planning money while the organization moves forward with its legal challenge of a state law it says is retaliation for its advocacy of abortion rights.
Kansas is among several conservative states that have sought in recent years to strip Planned Parenthood of funding. At issue in Tuesday's ruling is money distributed to states under Title X, a federally financed family planning program. The Title X money targets low-income individuals seeking reproductive services such as birth control, pregnancy testing, cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. It cannot be used for abortions.
U.S. District Court J. Thomas Marten blocked enforcement of the state law in 2011, ruling that it unconstitutionally was intended to punish Planned Parenthood for advocating for abortion rights and would likely be overturned. He ordered Kansas to continue funding Planned Parenthood until the case was resolved. He also found the state law violates the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause, saying states cannot impose additional requirements for entities to qualify for federal programs.
A divided panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned Marten's rulings, saying Kansas can halt the funding. Tuesday's decision is not a final ruling on the merits of the case itself, and the appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. Given the split 2-1 ruling and the issues at stake in the litigation, it is also likely that the panel's decision could be appealed to the full court for a rehearing.
The appeals court panel rejected Planned Parenthood's claims that losing the family planning money amounted to a violation of free-speech rights for associating with abortion providers. It also said that the supremacy clause does not necessarily entitle Planned Parenthood to a court order forcing the state to continue the family planning funding.
The panel rejected the notion that Planned Parenthood can challenge the state law as unconstitutionally "solely on the ground that its passage was motivated by a desire to penalize Planned Parenthood's protected speech and association."
In a strongly worded dissent, Judge Carlos Lucero wrote that Marten's ruling was "well-grounded" in its findings of fact, had correctly applied court precedent and was free of error. Lucero said he was not persuaded to follow the "vanishing trail that my colleagues pursue in an end run around the district court."
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