TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s self-identifying pro-life governor recently agreed to end a legal fight to defend a new state law that would have defunded the abortion giant Planned Parenthood—at least for now.
As previously reported, House Bill 1411 was meant to reallocate funds that abortion providers had been receiving as Medicaid reimbursement, and to prohibit the government from contracting with organizations that offer abortion services—with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother. Florida abortion facilities receive approximately $200,0000 a year in Medicaid funds.
“A state agency, a local governmental entity, or a managed care plan … may not expend funds for the benefit of, pay funds to, or initiate or renew a contract with an organization that owns, operates, or is affiliated with one or more clinics,” the bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, reads.
Current state and federal law prohibits funds from being used toward abortion, but Florida lawmakers outlined that the state shouldn’t help keep abortion facilities in business either.
“We pay their light bill, we pay their salaries, we pay all kinds of things when the state contracts with these clinics,” Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, outlined on the Senate floor prior to the passage and signing of the legislation. “Let’s get Florida out of the abortion business. That’s what this bill does.”
Planned Parenthood soon sued, challenging various aspects of the law, and asserting that it would deprive the organization of $500,000 in funding used for screenings and school dropout prevention programs. It also took issue with a requirement that medical records being inspected yearly by the state, contending that doing so would violate the privacy of patients.
“[Planned Parenthood] cannot be prevented from getting government funding just because they provide abortions,” attorney Carrie Flaxman told the Orlando Sentinel.
In July, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, appointed to the bench by then-President Bill Clinton, sided with Planned Parenthood, stating that the revocation of Medicaid funds is not “based not on any objection to how the funds are being spent … but solely because the recipients of the funds choose to provide abortions separate and apart from any public funding.”
He granted a temporary injunction against the law while the matter moved forward in court, and in the meantime, the Scott administration agreed not to continue with the case.
“[I]nstead of taking the case to trial and offering additional evidence or legal arguments, attorneys for the Scott administration agreed to forgo further legal action,” the Associated Press reports. “They filed a joint motion with the plaintiffs earlier this month agreeing to end the litigation. Hinkle held a brief hearing to discuss the move and issued his final ruling hours later.”
Hinkle issued a permanent injunction against the law, opining that “a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly.”
“The defendants must not terminate any grant, contract, or other funding device based on the enjoined provisions and must not fail to renew any grant, contract, or other funding device that, but for the enjoined provisions, would have been renewed or would be renewed,” he wrote.
Planned Parenthood called the development a “victory.”
Scott is still allowed to appeal if he desires, but his spokesperson would not say whether the state would do so. She only advised reporters that the administration is reviewing the ruling, adding, “Scott is a pro-life governor who believes in the sanctity of life.”
As previously reported, in its annual report released in late December, the national office of Planned Parenthood outlined that the organization performed 323,999 abortions nationwide during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
However, while the organization also claimed that it is “stronger than ever,” its figures showed that the number of women visiting Planned Parenthood is the lowest in almost a decade. The report totals its services provided as being 9,455,582, with business being down by nearly a million persons from the year before, when figures totaled 10,590,333.