D.Kan: enjoins state law cutting off Planned Parenthood funding

The District Court for the District of Kansas granted a preliminary injunction barring the state from enforcing a recently enacted statute that would have prevented Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X family planning funding. The plaintiff, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, successfully argued that the statute violated the Supremacy Clause as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. The court concluded that the plaintiffs would be likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that the statute conflicted with federal law in violation of the Supremacy Clause and that the statute likely violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it was enacted to retaliate against Planned Parenthood for legal conduct. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri v. Brownback, 2011 WL 3250720 (D.Kan., Aug. 1, 2011). Judge J. Thomas Marten, appointed by President Clinton, wrote the opinion of the court.

Title X, 42 U.S.C. et seq. provides federal funding for family planning services. Under the program, the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) has the authority to issue grants to public or nonprofit private entities that provide low-cost family planning services. In Kansas, the USDHHS issues a large grant to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), which in turn distributes grants to organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide family planning services.

In 2011, Kansas adopted Section 107(l) of H.B. 2014. The section required the KDHE to give priority in distributing grants to public entities and non-public hospitals or certain “federally qualified health services.” The effect of the law was that Planned Parenthood would no longer be able to receive Title X grants from KDHE. Evidence from affidavits and legislator’s press releases indicated that the purpose of the law was precisely to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X funding. The plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, brought a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on violations of the Supremacy Clause and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The court first rejected the state’s argument that the plaintiffs had to satisfy a higher standard of proof than the ordinary standard for preliminary injunctions. The court acknowledged that there are some circumstances in which a plaintiff seeking an injunction must prove more than a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. However, the plaintiff’s claim in this case did not fall into any of the three categories of “disfavored” injunctions. First, the injunction would not alter the status quo. Instead of requiring the state to fund Planned Parenthood, as the state argued, the injunction would only require the state not to stop funding Planned Parenthood because the dispute arose before Planned Parenthood was replaced as a recipient of KDHE grants. Second, the injunction would not require mandatory action because it would only require the defendants to refrain from acting in accord with the allegedly unconstitutional provisions of the challenged law. Third, the injunction would not grant the plaintiffs all the relief they could obtain at trial because a preliminary injunction could be ended and Planned Parenthood also sought an order requiring payments for 2012. Consequently, the plaintiffs were not seeking a “disfavored” injunction, and they did not need to meet a heightened burden of proof.

The defendants argued that Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity barred the plaintiff’s claims, but the court rejected these arguments as well. The Eleventh Amendment bars plaintiffs from obtaining injunctions against states that in effect require a state to provide retrospective relief for a violation of law. However, the court concluded that in this case, Planned Parenthood was only seeking a prospective injunction to remedy an ongoing violation of constitutional law, and that therefore, the Eleventh Amendment did not bar their claim.

Turning to the merits of the plaintiff’s claims, the court held that Section 107(l) likely violated the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. The court explained that Title X forbids states from implementing policies “contrary to Title X”. Furthermore Title X and Section 107(l) were in “obvious conflict” because Title X allowed any entity to seek grants, and Section 107(l) forbid certain entities from eligibility. The evidence that Section 107(l) was passed to deny funding to Planned Parenthood supported the court’s conclusion that Section 107(l) contravened Congress’ intent for how Title X should operate. Section 107(l) thus likely violated the Supremacy Clause.

The court also agreed with the plaintiff that Section 107(l) likely violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution because the statute appeared to be an attempt to punish Planned Parenthood for its political views on abortion rights. The evidence indicated that the statute was not enacted simply so that the government could avoid funding abortions. Rather it was passed to bar an entire organization from receiving any Title X grants because of the organization’s association with abortion-related activities. By banning the whole organization from receiving funding rather than simply restricting how grants from the state could be spent, Section 107(l) violated the Constitution.

The court concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that Section 107(l) violated the Constitution and turned to the remaining requirements for a preliminary injunction. The court recognized that Planned Parenthood would suffer irreparable harm if the unconstitutional statute were not enjoined. If the injunction were denied, the court noted that Planned Parenthood would have to dramatically increase its fees and that the sudden loss of funding would make it very difficult to continue providing the same services. Also, the violation of First Amendment rights constitutes irreparable injury.

The court found that the balance of harms weighed in favor of granting the injunction. The harm to Planned Parenthood would be substantial if no injunction were granted, and defendants would only be barred from applying Section 107(l) if an injunction were granted. Finally, the public interest supported granting a preliminary injunction because an injunction would promote Congress’ intent for Title X to provide grant funds to all qualified entities, and an injunction would prevent a disruption of the family planning services that Planned Parenthood provides.

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