RALEIGH – North Carolina cannot withhold funding from Planned Parenthood until a lawsuit over that provision of the state budget has been resolved, a federal judge ruled late Friday.
The ruling by Judge James Beaty Jr. gives at least a temporary reprieve to Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina while they seek to invalidate the portion of the state budget that would withhold funding for non-abortion services. The group, one of two Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state, said the injunction should allow them to keep operating until the lawsuit over the provision known as Section 10.19 is resolved.
"Based on the evidence before the court, it appears that Section 10.19 was adopted specifically to penalize Planned Parenthood" for the organization's stance in favor of abortion rights, Beaty wrote, even though the law bars the group from using public money for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger. Planned Parenthood in North Carolina provides a range of other services, from tests for diabetes and high cholesterol to screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
Federal judges in Kansas and Indiana have blocked at least parts of laws stripping Planned Parenthood chapters of funds, but officials in both states have appealed.
The North Carolina budget provision would have barred Planned Parenthood from funding for contraceptive and teen pregnancy programs. The group says the loss of funding would lead to layoffs, the end of free or low-cost contraceptives for poor women and the closure of its Durham clinic.
"We feel like this is a tremendous win for women in North Carolina, particularly for those who are poor or uninsured," said Paige Johnson, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, which operates health clinics in Durham, Chapel Hill and Fayetteville.
The next step in the lawsuit will depend largely on whether the state appeals Beaty's injunction. If not, Beaty could have a final decision shortly, Johnson said.
A call Friday night to NC Right to Life, which had supported the provision in the state budget, was not returned.
The provision was part of a state budget passed by the General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans for the first time in over a century. Although Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the spending plan, the legislature mustered enough votes for an override.
In arguments before Beaty earlier this month, state lawyers defending the General Assembly said the budgeting decision doesn't unfairly punish Planned Parenthood because the group could apply directly to the federal government for family planning funds.
But in his 35-page ruling granting the injunction, Beaty said the provision's legislative history makes it clear that the denial of funds was intended as political punishment for the organization. Beaty quoted statements by House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, tying Planned Parenthood to the eugenics movement and saying, "We should not be rewarding the perpetrators of that program."
A message left for Stam was not immediately returned Friday night.
Beaty also dismissed the state's argument that the budget is consistent with the General Assembly's policy of "favoring childbirth over abortions," noting that the funds in question can't be used for abortions.
The state, Beaty wrote, "has not presented any evidence or even contention to establish how Section 10.19's ban on using (Planned Parenthood) for non-abortion-related projects is rationally related to a legislative policy of funding childbirth services over abortion services."
With the injunction in place, Johnson said Planned Parenthood hopes to be able to offer its services as usual until the outcome of the larger lawsuit.
"We fully expect to win the case," she said.