In a victory for women's health advocates, a U.S. appeals court on Tuesday shot down Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's attempt to block funding for the state's Planned Parenthood affiliate, saying the move was probably a political one meant to punish the group.
Herbert, an anti-choice Republican, directed the Utah Department of Health to withhold the money last August, citing a series of controversial videos released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that allegedly showed national Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue for scientific research. The videos have since been discredited, with multiple state and federal entities clearing Planned Parenthood of illegal acts and one grand jury choosing to instead indict the filmmakers.
As the Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday:
Utah clinics were not included in the videos, which later were determined to be inaccurate and misleading. Herbert stood by his decision to cut the organization's funding, citing the casual and callous way that national Planned Parenthood staff members were shown discussing abortion.
"I believe we're on solid footing," he said in March, after the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed for and temporarily received a restraining order against the state.
But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, in its ruling, pointed to political motivations behind Herbert's action, stating: "[W]e conclude that a reasonable finder of fact is more likely than not to find that Herbert, a politician and admitted opponent of abortion, viewed the situation that presented itself by release of the CMP videos as an opportunity to take public action against [Planned Parenthood Association of Utah or PPAU], deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services."
"This seems especially true given Herbert's concession that the allegations made by CMP are unproven and in fact false, and in light of the current political climate," wrote Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe.
Healthcare providers and reproductive rights advocates celebrated the court's decision, with PPAU director Karrie Galloway saying it was "a major victory for our patients, and for health care providers in Utah who want to provide services to Utahns free of discrimination."
Noting that the ruling was the latest in "a string of recent victories" on abortion access nationwide, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, added in a statement:
You cannot hide behind lies in order to harm women. That's why these attacks on women's access to reproductive health care continue to fall one by one. This decision should send a strong message to politicians across country who are trying to strip people of their basic access to health care. Courts in Florida, Kansas and, now, Utah are standing with women, men and young people by affirming their right to access health care and education from a provider they trust. We will not stop fighting until every person has access to the health care they need and deserve, and until the law guarantees it.