Crime & Courts

Planned Parenthood: State hasn't paid

TOPEKA — Planned Parenthood may return to federal court to force Kansas to immediately release federal funds for the group's non-abortion services. The organization doesn't think the state is complying with a judge's order, the leader of its regional chapter said Thursday.

President and CEO Peter Brownlie said that Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has not received any family planning funds from the state, despite an Aug. 1 order from U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten of Wichita. Brownlie said the group has been consulting with its attorneys since last week about the issue.

Marten's order blocked a provision in the current state budget that prevents Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning dollars. The judge agreed with the group that it was being improperly targeted and that the provision represented an attempt by the state to dictate a new requirement for a federal program.

Planned Parenthood estimates that the provision, if enforced, would cost it about $330,000 a year and force it either to increase charges for low-income patients or cut back on services such as providing birth control and performing exams. The state has appealed Marten's ruling, but Brownlie said it was obligated to restore the funding as soon as Marten issued his decision.

"We and our attorneys are talking about what our next steps are," Brownlie said. "The state's refusal to comply with the court's order is rather remarkable."

Marten declined to discuss the issue because, his judicial assistant said in an e-mail, he doesn't comment on pending cases.

State officials also didn't respond Thursday to Brownlie's comments, but last week, the attorney general's office asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to overturn Marten's decision. The state also asked Marten to suspend his order while the appeal is pending, but he refused Wednesday.

Lawyers for the attorney general's office then filed two new requests Thursday with Marten, attacking Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, which names Gov. Sam Brownback and Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser as defendants.

One sought to have Brownback dismissed as a defendant, arguing that he is "clothed with absolute legislative immunity," meaning he can't be sued for actions "taken in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity." The other, Moser's answer to the lawsuit, calls its allegations "without merit" and asks for Marten to dismiss it.

Kansas isn't alone in trying to deny Planned Parenthood funds, with actions taken by legislators in Indiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

The Kansas provision required the state to distribute federal family planning dollars first to public health departments and hospitals. The state Department of Health and Environment committed most of the money that had been going to Planned Parenthood to Sedgwick County's health department.

The provision doesn't mention Planned Parenthood by name, but lawmakers who backed it said repeatedly that they were trying to defund the group. They argued that taxpayers shouldn't indirectly subsidize abortions, though none of the funds can be used directly for such services.

Planned Parenthood performs abortions at a clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, but it provides other services there and at clinics in Wichita and Hays.

The group argues that the provision violates its rights to free speech and due legal process because it is being punished for advocating abortion rights. Marten agreed, saying the state hadn't shown that Planned Parenthood's services were inadequate after at least 25 years of receiving federal funds.