Ohio Judge: State legislators cannot defund Planned Parenthood

An interesting decision out of Ohio. A judge appointed by George W. Bush has ruled that Ohio’s law defunding Planned Parenthood is unconstitutional because it violates the group’s First Amendment rights. From the Associated Press:

The Ohio law targets the more than $1.4 million in funding that Planned Parenthood gets through the state’s health department. That money, mostly from the federal government, supports certain education and prevention programs. The law would bar such funds from going to entities that perform or promote abortions…

The state’s attorneys had argued that Planned Parenthood was trying to override state policy choices and that no entity has a constitutional right to receive public money…

More specifically, the state is arguing that it has a policy preference for childbirth over abortion and the allocation of funds is based on that choice. However:

[Planned Parenthood’s] attorneys argued the law was unconstitutional because it required, as a condition of receiving government funds, that recipients abandon their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and to provide abortion services.

The wrinkle in this case is that it’s already illegal for Planned Parenthood to spend any money it receives from the state on abortion. The question is whether the state can limit the group from receiving funds for other health services because the group also provides abortions.

The more basic question seems to be whether money is fungible, i.e. once you give $1.4 million to Planned Parenthood that money is part of a pool, some of which is used to provide abortions (often in the same clinic where the publicly funded health services take place). The judge in this case is rejecting that idea and saying government money can’t be restricted based on where the rest of the group’s money is going.

Ohio’s attorney general has already said he plans to appeal the decision.