TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge has blocked key parts of a Florida law that, among other aspects, prohibits funds from going to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
As previously reported, House Bill 1411 reallocates funds that abortion providers had been receiving as Medicaid reimbursement, and prohibits 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 reads.
Current state and federal law prohibits funds from being used toward abortion, but Florida lawmakers believe 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.
On Thursday, 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.”
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” he wrote. “You can’t defund based on exercising a constitutional right.”
Planned Parenthood praised the ruling, but representatives for Gov. Rick Scott said that they are reviewing the opinion and considering their options.
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.