Schuette weighs in on Ohio Planned Parenthood funding case

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Two months after Gov. Rick Snyder decided budget language that would block funding to Planned Parenthood was unconstitutional, Attorney General Bill Schuette advocated for the termination of funding for the Ohio branch of the agency.

Two months after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder decided budget language that threatened funding to Planned Parenthood was unconstitutional, Attorney General Bill Schuette is advocating for a government funding ban for the Ohio branch of the group.

Schuette’s solicitor general earlier this month wrote an amicus brief in the lawsuit between the Ohio Department of Health director and Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio because the case there could affect similar funding bans in other states, including Michigan.

Attorneys general from 14 other states joined Schuette in challenging a permanent injunction on a 2016 Ohio law that would block funding for specific federal health care programs from going to organizations that provide or promote abortion. A Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel upheld the injunction in April, calling the Ohio law unconstitutional. 

Ohio has since asked the court to consider an appeal before the full 16-member court, an effort Schuette's amicus brief supports.

Schuette’s filing comes less than two months after Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature included boilerplate budget language that would further restrict non-abortion family planning and reproductive services funding that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services gives to entities that also perform abortions. Snyder called the language “unenforceable” because the state Constitution prohibits legislators from changing existing statute through boilerplate budget language.

Snyder’s office is monitoring the Ohio case, spokeswoman Anna Heaton said, and will assess its effect when the federal appeals court renders its opinion.

Right to Life of Michigan supported and lobbied for the budget language because the group argues the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is not following a 2002 law that requires family planning funding be prioritized to non-abortion providers, said Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan. 

The group disagreed with Snyder’s interpretation of the legality of the boilerplate language. Instead of asking Schuette for another opinion on the matter, the group will likely address the issue with the next governor, Marnon said.

“It didn’t create law," Marnon said of the boilerplate language. "It simply gave direction, which is exactly what boilerplate language is designed to do.”

The funding at stake in Ohio is slightly different from the government aid that would be affected by the failed budget language in Michigan, said Ruth Lednicer, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. But Schuette’s involvement in the Ohio case “signals what his intentions” are regarding the agency, Lednicer said.

“It’s obviously another attempt to go after funding for providers of reproductive health care that includes abortion,” she said. 

In his amicus brief, Schuette’s solicitor general Aaron Lindstrom argues Ohio can lawfully decide against funding conduct such as abortion or the organization engaging in or promoting that conduct.

The U.S. Supreme Court holds the right to abortion belongs to the woman, Lindstrom wrote, “not to abortion providers.”

“They have no constitutional right to perform abortions so they are not being asked to (let alone coerced into) giving up any constitutional right,” he wrote.

Among the states whose attorneys general signed the brief were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Nevada was mistakenly included in the initial filing because of a record keeping error in which abbreviations for two states were swapped, Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said.

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