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Planned Parenthood Takes Utah Funding Fight to 10th Cir.

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 31, 2015 5:58 AM

Planned Parenthood is taking its battle with Utah Governor Gary Herbert to the Tenth Circuit. The state branch of the national organization filed an appeal with the circuit court on Sunday, seeking to halt Herbert's denial of nearly $275,000 in federal funds channeled through the state to the group.

Gov. Herbert made the move in response to controversial videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing abortions and fetal tissue. A federal court in Utah upheld the funding change last week, leading to this weekend's appeal.

The Funding, and Filming, Controversy

The immediate conflict between Gov. Herbert and Planned Parenthood of Utah began after the conservative Center for Medial Progress released undercover footage of Planned Parenthood offers discussing fetal tissue transactions. Planned Parenthood regularly provides fetal tissue for research and other medical use. The organization says it recovers only the cost of collecting and transferring the tissue and has condemned the videos as highly-edited and intentionally misleading.

In response to the videos, the governor ordered the Utah Department of Health to terminate or not renew four contracts with Planned Parenthood's Utah affiliate -- despite objections from the Department of Health. Those contracts were part of a long-term relationship between Planned Parenthood and the Department of Health. Two of them were for afterschool abstinence programs and two were for STD tracking programs.

Planned Parenthood's Constitutional Arguments

Planned Parenthood argued that it was being targeted for unfavorable treatment as a "class of one." Under the Equal Protection Clause, the government may not irrationally, arbitrarily, and improperly single out an individual for burdens not placed on those similarly situated. That, however, was not the case here, District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled. Utah was simply "acting as a decisionmaker, making subjective, individualized assessments about whether to continue the contracts." Nor did the state impose unconstitutional conditions on Planned Parenthoods' First Amendment rights, Judge Waddoups ruled.

That ruling is "out of step" with similar cases in Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. In Alabama, for example, the state backed down entirely from defunding Planned Parenthood after a district court issued an injunction against the move.

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