JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Government funding for Missouri Planned Parenthood clinics is at stake in a lawsuit argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
State attorneys asked Supreme Court judges to back the Republican-led Legislature's decision to block funding from Planned Parenthood. The Attorney General's Office appealed to the high court after a lower court in June ruled the move was unconstitutional.
Solicitor General John Sauer told judges that lawmakers acted within their budgeting authority in stripping Planned Parenthood funding, despite Planned Parenthood's claims that legislators violated the state Constitution in how they tweaked the state spending plan.
“The arguments they make are not rooted in the plain text of the Missouri Constitution," Sauer said of Planned Parenthood's complaints.
Republican lawmakers in Missouri for years have sought to stop any taxpayer money from going to Planned Parenthood, even clinics that do not provide abortions.
But legislators struggled with “loopholes" that allowed Planned Parenthood clinics that provide other healthcare to continue receiving funding. Abortion opponents finally succeeded in the fiscal year that ended in June by blocking money to any facility affiliated with others that perform abortions.
Lawmakers were able to stop money from going to Planned Parenthood by forgoing some federal funding to avoid requirements that the clinics be reimbursed if low-income patients go there for birth control, cancer screenings and other preventative care. Missouri instead now uses state money to pay for those services.
Planned Parenthood argues that some of its chapters provide preventative health care and not abortion and shouldn't be financially penalized.
“The issue here is pretty obvious," Planned Parenthood attorney Chuck Hatfield said after court arguments. “This particular Legislature doesn't want to give any money to any doctor who is in any way affiliated with Planned Parenthood, and that in and of itself is unconstitutional.”
Planned Parenthood has 12 clinics in Missouri, but only one of them performs abortions.
That St. Louis clinic is the state's only remaining abortion clinic and is in a battle with state regulators over its license. No ruling on the license is expected before late February.
In written arguments to the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood attorneys say lawmakers violated the Missouri Constitution by referencing another law defining “abortion facilities" in the budget. They also claim that the budget law did more than dole out money and unconstitutionally changed state policy.
Sauer told judges that those constitutional issues don't apply in this case.
The judges did not indicate when they might rule.