Federal Judge: Oklahoma Health Department May End WIC Contracts with Planned Parenthood

Planned_parenthood_supportersOklahoma City, Oklahoma — A federal judge has ruled against Planned Parenthood in its pursuit of an emergency injunction against the state of Oklahoma for its decision to end its WIC contracts with the organization.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Friot handed down his opinion Monday, noting that while the state’s reasons for ending the contract did not seem to be sufficient, neither were Planned Parenthood’s reasons for seeking the injunction.

The Oklahoma Health Department has contracted with Planned Parenthood and other organizations throughout the state for 18 years to help provide nutritional services and counseling to low-income women. However, it recently decided to discontinue the contract as only a small percentage of women visit Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma for WIC services. While it is estimated that fifty percent of newborns in the state are enrolled in the program, only 18 percent use one of the three Planned Parenthood locations as a provider.

Planned Parenthood was notified in September of this year that the health department’s contract with the organization would not be renewed for this reason, as well as its uncertainty of whether the funding would be available next year, coupled with the cost of services per client. It had received $454,000 in funding last year specifically for the WIC program.

In its legal argument before the court, Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma asserted that the state was rather discontinuing the contract because of the organization’s reputation for performing abortions. The three Planned Parenthood locations in the state — two in Tulsa and one in Broken Arrow — do not offer abortions, but rather provide referrals to where mothers may obtain an abortion. They also dispense the morning after pill, which many contend is an abortifacient.

However, officials asserted that abortion was not a factor in their decision. According to the Huffington Post, Health Commissioner Terry Cline remarked during a hearing on the matter that abortion should “absolutely not” play a role in the department’s choice to cut funding.

In his ruling Monday, Judge Friot stated that while Planned Parenthood’s WIC caseload may not be sufficient reasoning in itself for ending the state’s contract with the organization, other aspects of the matter might be, such as a difficult working relationship.

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“[A] routine, solvable problem can become a justifiable basis for strong action when it is compounded by persistent unresponsiveness in addressing the challenge,” he wrote. “Moreover, the frustrations in getting information out of  [Planned Parenthood] on what should have been routine administrative matters rubbed additional salt into the wound.”

As a result of the ruling, Penney Dickey, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma, advised that the entity may now close one of its three locations. Oklahoma state officials contend that those who had visited Planned Parenthood for WIC services can easily continue receiving assistance through the other organizations in the state that offer the program.

Planned Parenthood says that it is considering an appeal. Its contract with the Oklahoma Health Department ends on January 1st.

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