The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Indiana law yesterday that prohibited taxpayer funding from being used toward facilities that perform abortions.
In May 2011, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law that denied funding to “any entity that performs abortions or maintains or operates a facility where abortions are performed.” While Indiana already prohibited federal and state funding from being used for most abortions, the new law barred Medicaid funds from going to abortion-related organizations at all, even if they provide other services besides abortion.
However, following its enactment, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against the state, alleging that the law barred low-income women from choosing their own healthcare provider. It also claimed that Planned Parenthood would have to close 28 of its facilities throughout Indiana if it did not receive Medicaid funding. The Obama administration filed a supportive brief to back Planned Parenthood.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who argued on behalf of the state, noted in court briefs that residents have a variety of other medical facilities to choose from where they may obtain health services that are covered under medicare, and that the state should have a right to determine how taxpayer funds are used.
On Tuesday, the court sided with Planned Parenthood.
“The defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients’ statutory right to obtain medical care from the qualified provider of their choice,” wrote Judge Diane Sykes, who composed the 49-page opinion on behalf of the three-judge panel.
She then stressed the court’s belief in the “right” to abortion, and advised that the state must be careful to not indirectly limit access to abortion while simultaneously withholding taxpayer funds from known abortion providers.
“It is settled law that the government’s refusal to subsidize abortion does not impermissibly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion,” Sykes continued. “If a ban on public funding for abortion does not directly violate the abortion right, then Indiana’s ban on other forms of public subsidy for abortion providers cannot be an unconstitutional condition that indirectly violates the right.”
Judge Sykes was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush in 2004. She was joined in the ruling by Judge Michael Kanne, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987.
The third judge, Richard Cudahy, appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1979, said that he agreed with the results of the ruling, but dissented partly, stating that the court prematurely concluded that the law denied access to abortion.
Following the decision, a number of pro-life groups lamented the court’s reinstatement of the use of taxpayer funds for organizations that end the lives of unborn children.
“What you have here are unelected federal judges telling the state of Indiana what it must fund, even though the vast majority of duly elected Indiana legislators voted for this legislation,” Indiana Right to Life spokesperson Mike Fichter told reporters. “It passed by a huge margin — and yet here we have a federal court stepping onto the sovereignty of Indiana telling it [that] it must send Medicaid funding to the state’s largest abortion business.”
State Attorney General Greg Zoeller agreed.
“The people’s elected representatives in the legislature decided they did not want an indirect subsidy of abortion services, such as payroll and overhead, to be paid with taxpayers’ dollars,” he wrote in a prepared statement. “We will review this opinion more thoroughly with our clients before deciding how best to continue to defend the Indiana law.”
Zoeller stated that he was pleased with one portion of the ruling, however, which advised that the state was within its rights to pull two federal grants that Planned Parenthood had received from the Disease Intervention Services (DIS) program, which totaled $150,000 in funding.
As previously reported, last Friday, a federal district court judge granted a temporary restraining order against an almost identical law in Arizona. Judge Neil Wake, appointed in 2004 by George W. Bush under the recommendation of Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, said that Planned Parenthood should not be denied funding simply because it performs abortions.
“The fact that [Planned Parenthood] performs legally protected abortions does not affect their ability to perform family planning services for Medicaid patients,” he said.
The Arizona case moves ahead on December 6th.
Regarding Tuesday’s ruling in the 7th Circuit, which covers Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, Zoeller is being urged by pro-life groups to file an appeal in the United States Supreme Court.