Law & the Courts

A Judge Backs Planned Parenthood

(Photo: Sebnem Ragiboglu/Dreamstime)
And his rationale was not a respectable one.

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Texas cannot defund Planned Parenthood’s Gulf Coast affiliate (PPGC) without further concrete evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the abortion provider. Texas attempted in 2015 to prevent its state Medicaid funding from being used to reimburse Planned Parenthood clinics after a series of undercover videos suggested that some of the abortion group’s affiliates — including PPGC — were illegally selling the fetal tissue of aborted babies.

The videos in question were released in the summer of 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress, a group of independent journalists who posed as medical researchers in order to film Planned Parenthood executives and their associates discussing the trafficking of baby body parts for profit.

A subsequent congressional investigation found extensive evidence substantiating the video footage, despite claims from the pro-abortion movement that the videos were “deceptively edited” and that Planned Parenthood never actually profited from the sale of fetal tissue. In fact, over the course of the investigation, the House Select Panel issued a total of 15 criminal referrals, recommending that local law-enforcement officials conduct further investigation into the organizations implicated in the videos.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was among the groups referred for criminal investigation, as evidence emerged that the group had sold fetal body parts to the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Baylor College of Medicine, an activity that is illegal under both Texas and federal law. The panel also found that workers at PPGC may have lied to law-enforcement officials while under investigation.

But Tuesday’s decision from U.S. district judge Sam Sparks asserted that this evidence — which a bipartisan congressional panel believed was enough to merit further criminal investigation — was not enough to merit defunding the group. From his opinion: “A secretly recorded video, fake names, a grand jury indictment, congressional investigations — these are the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program.”

In other words, Sparks portrayed the evidence against PPGC as highly questionable in order to delegitimize Texas’s aim of defunding the group due to its possible illegal activity. This flashy linguistic trick might appear to underscore a winning argument, but the judge’s effort to discredit the CMP videos collapses upon consideration of the attending facts.

For one thing, secret recording is permitted under Texas law, and investigative journalists are similarly permitted to withhold their real names; furthermore, the undercover nature of the videos does not negate their footage. While two CMP journalists were indicted in Harris County, Texas, for second-degree felonies and a misdemeanor charge, all of the charges against them were subsequently dropped last July. And it is outrageous to dismiss a thorough, 15-month, bipartisan congressional investigation — one that culminated in a 418-page report detailing extensive illegal activity on the part of the abortion industry — as the stuff of sensational crime novels.

Sparks’s choice to insinuate that the CMP videos were fabricated, and to dismiss the copious evidence gathered against Planned Parenthood since 2015, reveals the very bias that led him to rule in favor of the abortion corporation. Had PPGC already been convicted of illegal activity as the result of ongoing criminal probes, Sparks would have had a more difficult time justifying his decision.

As so often happens, this case demonstrates the flaw in our present arrangement, under which the federal government collects money from the states and then disburses it back to them with strings attached. The Founders deliberately limited the national government to a handful of core functions. With the passage of the 16th Amendment — and then the Helvering decision of 1937 — the federal government’s power was dramatically increased. Having been given the authority to raise income taxes, the federal government was accorded the power to determine how the collected money would be spent. Can it be any surprise that it has led to micromanagement?

Examples of this type of intrusion abound. Late last year, the Obama administration attempted to use Title X to prevent states from defunding Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers, arguing that states could not discriminate between “qualified” health-care providers. The House last week passed a bill overturning that rule, and a companion bill is expected to be considered in the Senate soon.

Sparks’s choice to insinuate that the CMP videos were fabricated reveals his bias.

On the grounds of federalism alone, Texas and every other state ought to insist that any money from the federal government — for Medicaid spending or otherwise — come in the form of block grants that can be disbursed to providers as each state sees fit.

That, however, is a question for another day. For now, we must focus on the current structure, within which Sparks clearly made the wrong judgment. If one examines the information impartially, one can see that there is certainly enough evidence of illegal activity to cast a shadow over Planned Parenthood and to justify the removal of its federal funding. And the sooner that happens, the sooner the funding can go to clinics that truly help women.

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