Judge- Planned Parenthood must pay back grants

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The branches must return $668,850 with 9 percent annual interest added.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A circuit judge has ordered two Planned Parenthood branches to repay the state $668,850 in family planning grants, upholding a prohibition on state money going to the affiliates of abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood officials said the organization would appeal the ruling, issued May 25 in Cole County Circuit Court but first publicized Tuesday by the Missouri Catholic Conference.

The decision is at least the third time a circuit judge has determined Planned Parenthood was not entitled to the family planning money distributed by the state health department. The state Supreme Court overturned two previous rulings without ever addressing the merits of the case.

After Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate, they stopped funding family planning grants altogether in the 2004 budget. But the legal dispute continued over money previously awarded to Planned Parenthood.

At issue were grants in the 2000 and 2003 fiscal years to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

Ray County Circuit Judge Werner Moentmann, who was assigned to the Cole County case, ruled that Planned Parenthood's mid-Missouri branch must repay the state $376,800 and the St. Louis branch $292,050, with 9 percent annual interest applied to each. Officials from both branches said they would appeal.

"We believe that we were given legally binding contracts which we fulfilled -- not only in our obligation to the state, but also to the patients who came to us needing comprehensive family planning services," Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said Tuesday.

'Very encouraging'

Gov. Matt Blunt praised the ruling, saying it was "very encouraging to see a court embracing the culture of life that Missourians hold dear."

Missouri began funding family planning grants in the 1994 budget. A few years later, anti-abortion lawmakers tried to prevent the money from going to Planned Parenthood by inserting restrictive language in the budget.

That resulted in a series of court battles, with Attorney General Jay Nixon at one point defending the health department's awarding of the grants to Planned Parenthood while hiring a private attorney to represent the Legislature's contention that Planned Parenthood should not get the money.

Cole County Circuit Judge Byron Kinder ruled in November 1999 that Planned Parenthood must return the family planning money it received. But in January 2001, the Supreme Court ordered Kinder to reconsider based on changes in federal law.

Kinder again ruled against Planned Parenthood. But on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled in January 2002 that Nixon had a conflict of interest in defending both the Legislature's restrictions and the health department's interpretation allowing money to go to Planned Parenthood.

Nixon responded by dropping the case. But St. Charles resident Daniel Shipley then initiated his own challenge of the Planned Parenthood grants, which resulted in the most recent court ruling.

The budget restrictions prohibited family planning grants from going to organizations that shared the same or similar name as an affiliated abortion provider, or that shared facilities, expenses, employee wages, equipment or supplies.

Moentmann ruled the two Planned Parenthood groups were barred from getting money on all of those grounds, determining they share similar names as their abortion affiliates, as well as office space, expenses, employee wages, equipment and supplies.

"This is great news for all pro-life taxpayers in the state," said Samuel Lee of Campaign Life Missouri, whose statement was distributed by the Catholic Conference. If the ruling stands on appeal, "Missouri will be completely out of the business of directly or indirectly subsidizing the abortion industry."

Case is Daniel Shipley v. Ronald Cates, 02CV324517.

On the Net:

Court Search: http://www.courts.mo.gov/casenet

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