COLUMBUS, Ohio – Planned Parenthood sued Ohio's health director on Sunday in a dispute over how the organization's affiliates handle the disposal of fetal tissue in the state.
The organization is accusing the state's health department of changing the interpretation of a fetal tissue disposal rule without notice and then unfairly targeting Planned Parenthood, violating its due process and equal protection rights.
The federal lawsuit filed in Columbus follows an investigation by the state's attorney general into the organization's three facilities in Ohio that provide abortions.
Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the probe in mid-July after anti-abortion activists began releasing undercover videos they said showed Planned Parenthood personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs.
Planned Parenthood has said some fetal tissue is donated for medical research. Such donations are illegal in Ohio, and a Planned Parenthood state leader has said no donation program exists there.
DeWine's office found no evidence that the group made money from aborted fetuses, but the report instead criticized Planned Parenthood facilities for disposing of fetal remains in landfills.
DeWine told reporters on Friday the disposal practice is callous and violates state rules requiring that fetuses be disposed of in a humane manner. He plans to seek an injunction Monday to prevent Planned Parenthood from disposing of fetal remains in landfills.
Planned Parenthood called the alleged wrongdoing "inflammatory." The organization said it follows Ohio law and uses the same practices as hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities, which generally contract with outside companies to dispose of all medical waste.
Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said the disposal process is handled safely and respectfully. She said Sunday the tissue is processed and sent to a solid waste facility that's specifically licensed for medical material, not a typical landfill.
In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said it's always abided by the directive that fetal tissue be disposed in a "humane" manner and has never been cited by the Ohio Department of Health, which licenses abortion facilities in Ohio, for violating those regulations.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood accused the state's health director, Richard Hodges, of abandoning his standard process of providing notice of alleged non-compliance and providing an opportunity to correct such issues.
Planned Parenthood said it didn't hear from health officials about the alleged violation until the group reached out to them Friday.
In their complaint, attorneys for Planned Parenthood argued, Hodges has "arbitrarily singled out" the organization.
"This sudden and targeted treatment is no doubt motivated by his animus to a woman's right to safe and legal abortion and to Planned Parenthood in particular," the attorneys wrote.
A health department spokeswoman said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Planned Parenthood has asked the court to block the state from any taking action and allow Planned Parenthood to work with the health department to sort out any issues related to the regulations.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Ohio House planned a Monday news conference to announce legislation following the attorney general's investigation.