On July 12, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and granted Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) an injunction, blocking Gov. Gary Herbert’s order to cut off funding to the organization.
In the decision, the appeals court explained that not only was Herbert’s order to defund PPAU based on misinformation, but also that his politically motivated attack on the Planned Parenthood affiliate was meant to “punish” the health care provider.
The controversy began last year after Herbert attempted to defund PPAU in response to deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which claimed Planned Parenthood illegally profited from the sale of donated fetal tissue. In reality, this smear campaign was so fraudulent that a Houston, TX, grand jury indicted CMP’s founder David Daleiden, and the organization earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. CMP’s videos have been repeatedly discredited, and multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, Herbert followed in the footsteps of anti-choice legislators in many other states and ordered “state agencies to cease acting as an intermediary for pass-through federal funds to Planned Parenthood.”
Since the release of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, right-wing media have consistently pushed misinformation about Planned Parenthood as part of an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. Right-wing media have justified these defunding efforts by claiming that community health clinics can effectively fill the gap left by barring Planned Parenthood from state and federal health care programs, an allegation echoed in Utah.
In an August 2015 article, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that even though Herbet admitted that the alleged violations shown in the CMP videos “may not have happened in Utah,” he maintained that his decision was appropriate and would not adversely “affect educational programs for preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Instead, he argued that “the monies we have right now are going to be put into the marketplace with other qualified providers, it just won't be going to Planned Parenthood.”
Despite his claims, there is ample evidence that removing Planned Parenthood from such programs has a detrimental impact on community health. In fact, health policy experts have explained that the idea of community health services filling in for Planned Parenthood is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do." This is particularly true in Utah, where “PPAU is currently the only statewide organization that provides reproductive health services to anyone who requests them … without regard to a patient’s health insurance status, socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity.”
Recent studies show that defunding Planned Parenthood can lead to decreased access to contraception, particularly for low-income women. In February, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that when Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood from its family planning program, there were “over 30 percent fewer claims for long-acting and injectable contraceptives among low-income patients using the Women’s Health Program.”
Access to contraception is not the only service patients lose when states defund Planned Parenthood. In 2011, Indiana cut funding to Planned Parenthood, leaving one rural county without an HIV testing center as it experienced a sharp increase in HIV infections. Similarly, the Texas Observer found in June that in Harris County, TX -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- the county’s health department hadn’t conducted a single HIV test since the county ended its decades-long contract with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing and prevention in December.
The 10th Circuit further noted that prior to Herbert’s defunding order, “at no time has UDOH [Utah Department of Health] complained about the services provided by PPAU, or otherwise claimed that PPAU was not qualified to provide services.” The opinion further explained that not only had PPAU won competitive contracts from the state on multiple occasions but the amount provided through those grants had also been increased in exchange for continuing service.
As the court concluded, Herbert “more likely than not” put politics above program effectiveness when making his decision to block PPAU’s funding:
Considering all of this evidence together, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert issued the Directive to punish PPAU for the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights it has identified in this litigation. In particular, we conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert, a politician and admitted opponent of abortion, viewed the situation that presented itself by release of the CMP videos as an opportunity to take public action against PPAU, deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services.