Judge issues injunction blocking the state’s latest restriction on Planned Parenthood

The Cedar Rapids Planned Parenthood Health Center, shown Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. — Lauren Shotwell/Little Village

A state district court judge issued a temporary injunction on Wednesday, blocking new regulations designed to prevent Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH) from receiving government grants to provide sex education programs.

PPH currently uses that grant money to provide sex education programs in 31 schools and 12 community-based, youth-service organizations across Iowa. PPH has been offering those sex education programs for over a decade, using a state-approved curriculum. In some counties, it is the sole provider such programs.

Republican leaders of the Iowa legislature introduced the funding ban into the budget bill for the Iowa Department of Human Services during the final days of the legislative session, by means of a seldom-used legislative procedure that prevented any effort to remove them. Gov. Kim Reynolds could have used her line-item veto to remove the ban when she signed the bill into law on May 3, but chose not to.

On May 15, the ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit on behalf of PPH to overturn the ban.

“The particular provisions that we’re challenging disqualify any provider of these essential sex education programs to at-risk Iowa youth from providing abortions, referring for abortions, as well as advocating for abortion rights or even associating with others that do,” Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for ACLU of Iowa, said at a press conference when the lawsuit was filed.

As part of the lawsuit, PPH asked for a temporary injunction, so that it can continue to apply for the grant while its lawsuit works its way through the courts.

In his ruling on Wednesday, Polk County District Judge Joseph Seidlin found that PPH was entitled to the injunction, because its lawsuit is likely to succeed.

“The state offers two judgments the legislature could have made in creating the classification here,” Seidlin wrote in his decision. “First, the state proposes that it could make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion. That could certainly be a legitimate government interest. It is also an interest that would be completely unserved by this legislation. This is because [the sex education programs] have nothing to do with the issue of live birth or abortion. It is not realistically conceivable that the classification here would make any difference regarding grants for such programming.”

Seilden found the state’s other stated reason — “it would prefer Iowa teens to receive sexual education and teen pregnancy prevention programming from entities other than those for whom abortion represents a significant revenue stream” — to be equally suspect.

“This is proposed in the context that one for whom abortion represents a significant revenue stream is ‘less scrupulous’ than one for whom it does not,” the judge noted. Considering this point, Seidlen asked “what basis in fact could there be that providers of legal abortions have less scruples than anyone else?”

“As with the other, this second value judgment /governmental interest would likely be found not to be a valid, realistically conceivable purpose of this legislation,” he said.

The injunction will prevent the state from enforcing the new restrictions, until a court reaches a final decision on PPH’s lawsuit.

“We are pleased and relieved by today’s ruling, which means young Iowans can still get accurate, reliable information about their bodies and their relationships,” Planned Parenthood’s State Executive Director for Iowa Erin Davison-Rippey said in a written statement. “Planned Parenthood provides state-approved curricula in the very communities where the rates of unintended pregnancy and STDs are among the highest in the state. We cannot put the health of our future generations at risk. It’s essential that Planned Parenthood, the trusted provider of comprehensive sex education in Iowa for decades, can continue to provide these important programs.”

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