WINSTON-SALEM — A federal judge on Friday ordered North Carolina to honor its contract with a Planned Parenthood affiliate pending the outcome of the lawsuit the organization filed after the General Assembly cut off its funding.
U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty Jr. issued a preliminary injunction that found merit with Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina's arguments that the ban on funding was unconstitutional on several grounds.
At issue is $212,000 that would have gone to the group's clinics in Durham, Chapel Hill and Fayetteville to pay for contraceptives, teen pregnancy prevention programs and health services such as cancer screenings, pap smears, breast exams and diabetes tests for low-income women. The organization said staff would be laid off and many of those services would cease.
The Republican-controlled legislature included a provision in the state budget this summer prohibiting any funding of Planned Parenthood. Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the budget, but the General Assembly overrode the veto.
"Our first concern is to our patients, so we are deeply grateful that the court has stopped the state from enforcing the ban prohibiting Planned Parenthood from providing much-needed preventative health care to thousands of North Carolinians," the group's CEO, Janet Colm, said in statement Friday night.
Neither members of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly, nor the Attorney General's Office, which is defending the state Department of Health and Human Services in the lawsuit, could be reached for comment Friday.
Beaty, in his ruling, made it clear that Secretary Lanier Cansler must immediately unfreeze the Planned Parenthood funding.
"The court expects defendant Cansler to follow all applicable state and federal laws and regulations," the judge wrote, and cautioned that if DHHS proceeds as if that provision in the state budget was still in effect, "further proceedings would be appropriate." Beaty's ruling notes that Planned Parenthood and the state had a contract in place for the 2011-12 fiscal year before the legislature banned it.
The ruling follows similar rulings in federal courts in Kansas and Illinois, where legislatures tried to ban funding for all organizations that provide abortions. North Carolina's case was different because it singled out a specific group. Beaty makes several references to the recent rulings in Kansas and Illinois.
He found that Planned Parenthood would be likely to succeed at trial on several grounds:
Under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, the state's ban on funding would be pre-empted by federal law that makes the funding available.
Beaty noted the Kansas court found the ban was an unconstitutional "attempt to punish the plaintiff for its support of abortion rights," a violation of the First and 14th Amendments.
He found the budget provision singled out a specific organization for punishment, which violates the bill of attainder clause that guards against "trial by legislature." Comments Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam and Sen. Warren Daniel made in session support claims the group was targeted for abortion services.
Beaty rejected the state's contention that the budget provision serves a legitimate governmental purpose, which is upholding the elected legislature's policy of "favoring childbirth over abortion." The judge pointed out that it was unnecessary to impose a contractual ban on abortion funding because none of the money at issue is used for that purpose.
"Judge Beaty's ruling confirmed what we already knew, and what our arguments and evidence made clear: This special provision is contrary to federal law, violates the constitutional rights of PPCNC and our patients, unconstitutionally penalizes Planned Parenthood, and has the effect of restricting access to health care for some of North Carolina's most vulnerable populations," said attorney Helene Krasnoff with the organization's national office.
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