by Bob Geary
Breaking news: "Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) filed suit today in federal district court in Greensboro seeking to prevent the enforcement of the Planned Parenthood defunding amendment passed as part of the North Carolina budget during the 2011 legislative session. The North Carolina legislature passed a state budget that denies Planned Parenthood state and federal funds used to subsidize family planning services and provide teen pregnancy prevention programs, despite a veto by Governor Bev Perdue."
Planned Parenthood maintains that excluding it from eligibility to even apply for state funding to provide health services that the state is prepared to pay for (with state and federal funds) and that Planned Parenthood is well-qualified to offer —and that low-income people are entitled to receive — violates the U.S. Constitution.
So of late we've been consulting our copy of the Constitution in response to one or another of the Republican Party's "legal innovations."
Innovation 1: Default on the country's debts. 14th Amendment sez: Don't default on the nation's debts. Innovation 2: You can't mandate that people have health insurance. Article 1 sez: Congress has the power to regulate commerce. And so on. Don't get me started on Republican abuses of the filibuster in violation of Article 1 ("each Senator shall have one Vote").
And in North Carolina we have innovations like the new congressional districts map rolled out by our Republican-led General Assembly, which should violate something in the Constitution — or perhaps the Republicans here are simply misreading Article IV, Section 4 ("The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government" ...).
That's a joke.
What's not a joke is the provision of the new state budget, passed by the Republicans over Gov. Perdue's veto, which singles out Planned Parenthood — by name, and uniquely — as ineligible to apply for state funding to provide health services. Health services, it must be said, that Planned Parenthood has long provided with state funds and with no questions raised about the quality of its performance.
Services which are not abortion services, by the way, though abortion services are every bit as legal in America — last time I looked at the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling regarding our rights of privacy under the 9th Amendment — as the services that are in question here, which are related to family planning, women's health and teen pregnancy prevention.
So way down at the bottom of Article 1, in Section 10, is a list of things the states cannot do. (It's part of the original document; other things the states cannot do, like deny the equal protection of their laws to every citizen, were added by the post-Civil War amendments.)
One of the things listed in Section 10, after the words "No State shall ...":
... "Pass any Bill of Attainder" ....
It's on the no-can-do list along with no Titles of Nobility, Letters of Marque or Reprisal, Ex Post Facto laws ... stuff the Kings of Europe used to do routinely back when "the Law" was little more than whatever his Highness put on a parchment.
And what exactly is a Bill of Attainder?
It's the government — in this case, the government of a state — singling out someone or some group for punishment without evidence of wrongdoing and without a trial. Here's a bit of the legalese about it, extracted from this authoritative FindLaw article, specifically regarding Article 1, Section 10:
The clause thus prohibits all legislative acts, ''no matter what their form, that apply either to named individuals or to easily ascertainable members of a group in such a way as to inflict punishment on them without a judicial trial. . . .''
Singling out Planned Parenthood for punishment — for exclusion, that is, from even applying for state funds for which Planned Parenthood is rather uniquely well-qualified — would seem to be exactly the sort of Bill of Attainder that the Constitution explicitly prohibits.
Nonetheless, attacking Planned Parenthood's very existence has gotten to be an article of faith on the Republican right in the same way that being against taxes is — thus, Planned Parenthood is fighting for its constitutional rights in Indiana and Kansas as well as in North Carolina.
Last week, Planned Parenthood persuaded a federal judge in Indiana to issue a preliminary injunction against a GOP-initiated funding ban there, pending a full hearing.
Here's the full press release from Planned Parenthood of Central NC:
Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) filed suit today in federal district court in Greensboro seeking to prevent the enforcement of the Planned Parenthood defunding amendment passed as part of the North Carolina budget during the 2011 legislative session. The North Carolina legislature passed a state budget that denies Planned Parenthood state and federal funds used to subsidize family planning services and provide teen pregnancy prevention programs, despite a veto by Governor Bev Perdue.
“This budget may target Planned Parenthood, but the men, women and teens of North Carolina are the ultimate victims of this discriminatory legislation,” said Janet Colm, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. “This is the first time in North Carolina’s history that a single health care provider has been carved out in the budget and banned from applying for competitive grants from the state.”
Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina is arguing that the defunding amendment, which singles out Planned Parenthood as the only organization ineligible to continue to receive these family planning funds in North Carolina, violates federal law and the constitutional rights of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina is being represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), as well as attorneys from WilmerHale and Raleigh-based lawyer Jack Nichols, in the lawsuit against the state.
“As we have done in Indiana and Kansas, we have filed this litigation to protect our ability to provide these vital health care services to the men, women, and teens who rely on us,” said PPFA Senior Staff Attorney Helene Krasnoff. “This budget provision, like in those other states, is contrary to federal law, impermissibly penalizes Planned Parenthood, and has the effect of restricting North Carolinians’ access to health care.”
In the fiscal year that ended in June 30, 2011, PPCNC provided family planning and reproductive health exams to almost 7,000 women, which included 1,221 pap smears and 1,206 breast exams. In addition, this past fiscal year, PPCNC provided approximately 8,289 tests for sexually transmitted infections, as well as other medical services, including 57 colposcopies to detect cervical cancer following an abnormal Pap test.
Roughly 70% of the women and men served by Planned Parenthood of Central NC lack the health insurance to cover their care. Many patients would have nowhere else to turn for quality affordable care. In addition, the restriction further stretches North Carolina’s already over-burdened health care system. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, North Carolina has the 7th highest shortage of primary care providers in the country.
North Carolina has the 14th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, and teen childbearing costs North Carolina taxpayers more than $392 million each year. By eliminating Planned Parenthood as a subsidized family planning provider, patients may be forced to delay life saving cancer screenings and family planning services. Furthermore, teens in Cumberland County will be at even greater risk of unplanned pregnancy.
Currently, Planned Parenthood receives approximately $212,000 in federal and state grants and programs. These funds are used only to provide preventive healthcare services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy prevention, and affordable contraception. None of these funds are used to provide abortions.
In a recent survey, 57% of North Carolina voters opposed the effort by the North Carolina House to prohibit state funding to Planned Parenthood.
“Not only is this bill bad policy, but it’s also bad politics,” added Colm. “We hope the court will work to protect the people we serve, and will ensure that Planned Parenthood can continue to receive state and federal funding to assist us in providing critical health services to North Carolina women, men, and teens.”