Planned Parenthood sues over cuts in NC budget

Posted July 7, 2011 10:54 a.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2011 6:56 p.m. EDT

— One of North Carolina's two Planned Parenthood affiliates filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to invalidate part of the new state budget that cuts it off from federal or state funds for family planning.

The budget written by the Republican-majority General Assembly forbids Planned Parenthood and its affiliates from receiving any contracts or grants from the state health agency.

"It's never been done in this state before to single out one organization and ban them from even applying for funds," said Janet Colm, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.

In the suit, filed in Greensboro's federal court, the group contends that it is being punished for its abortion-rights advocacy, violating its free-speech protections.

"I think it's an attack on our patients and an attack on Planned Parenthood," Colm said. "We're being punished for our position on reproductive rights."

Republican leaders said they do not believe the ban violates any laws.

"We believe the state of North Carolina ought to be able to say who is going to provide services with taxpayer dollars," Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake County, said.

He said the cuts amount to 5 percent of the organization's budget.

Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina will keep offering services through Sept. 1 at its clinics in Fayetteville, Durham and Chapel Hill, Colm said. At that point, it might have to close the Durham clinic.

Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina received $287,000 in federal, state and matching local funds last fiscal year to use for teen pregnancy prevention and family planning programs, including contraceptives for poor women, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. They stand to lose $212,000 this year. 

Planned Parenthood Health Systems Inc., which is not a party to the lawsuit, received $186,000 in federal, state and local funds last year, according to DHHS.

"Not one penny of this goes to abortions. One hundred percent of it goes to family planning and sex education for young people," Colm said, adding that her group is raising $900,000 to cover all of its services.

Those services will continue to be provided through public health departments, Dollar said. Colm said that public health departments often have long waits for services.

Planned Parenthood has also sued over bans in Kansas and Indiana. Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest provider of abortions but follows federal law that bars public money from funding abortions, representatives said.

North Carolina's measure doesn't go as far as Indiana's decision to cut off Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood, a state health agency spokesman said. A federal judge has blocked Indiana's law, saying the state can't deny funds for general health services such as breast exams and Pap tests because Planned Parenthood also performs abortions.

North Carolina's two Planned Parenthood affiliates received $454,241 last year from Medicaid for providing poor women with general health services like cancer screenings and lab tests.

Roughly 70 percent of those served by Planned Parenthood of Central NC lack health insurance to cover their care. 

Tennessee's state budget directed that federal family planning money is to be used by government agencies and not third parties like Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers in Texas, New Jersey and in the U.S. House also have voted to cut funding to Planned Parenthood on anti-abortion grounds.