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Federal Court Blocks Ohio Law Defunding Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood building sign

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked an Ohio law that tried to divert public money from Planned Parenthood in an anti-abortion push by GOP lawmakers.

The Ohio law targeted 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 restrictions, which had been slated to take effect in 2016, were signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich during his failed presidential bid.

A federal judge blocked the law that same year. Wednesday's ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld that lower-court decision.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region had sued the state, saying the law violated their constitutional rights by denying them the funds "in retaliation for" providing abortions.

Planned Parenthood said Ohio's law would not force any of its 28 health centers in the state to close but the legislation would deprive thousands of patients of access to services such as HIV tests and breast and cervical cancer screenings.

The group'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.

Wednesday's decision said the money at issue had nothing to do with abortion, while noting that state and federal law have prohibited the use of government funds to pay for abortions for decades.

The state wrongly concluded "that because Ohio has the right to refuse to fund abortion, it necessarily has the right to refuse to provide any funds to abortion providers, regardless of how the funds are to be used," said Judge Helene White, writing for the majority three-judge ruling.

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.

The state is deciding whether to ask the full appeals court to hear the case or appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, women have a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood is a national target because of its role as the largest U.S. abortion provider.