SALT LAKE CITY -- A restraining order blocking the state of Utah from cutting federal dollars going to Planned Parenthood will remain in place, at least for now.
In a decision handed down from the bench, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups said he would let a temporary restraining order stand until he issued a written ruling on a preliminary injunction requested by Planned Parenthood of Utah. An injunction is a more permanent version of a restraining order that would be in effect while the organization's lawsuit against Governor Gary Herbert is litigated.
The controversy began when anti-abortion activists released videos purporting to show executives from the national Planned Parenthood allegedly discussing selling fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has claimed the videos have been heavily edited, are misleading and no illegal conduct took place.
Outraged over the videos, Governor Gary Herbert ordered the state not to facilitate any federal funding going to Planned Parenthood of Utah – more than $200,000.
The organization sued the governor and the state earlier this month, claiming that his order to defund the group violated its constitutional rights. Two weeks ago, Judge Waddoups granted their request for a temporary restraining order, blocking Herbert’s order.
Planned Parenthood of Utah insists the funding it receives through the state from the federal government has nothing to do with abortions, but is for sexually transmitted disease monitoring and educational programs.
“Cutting off the federal funding to Planned Parenthood will harm the citizens of the state of Utah. Their documents demonstrate that thousands of individuals will not receive STD testing that will lead to dire consequences,” Tomsic told the judge.
Tomsic said there are services in Utah that only Planned Parenthood provides. She told the judge that the governor’s directive suggested “Planned Parenthood is a criminal and deserves to be punished.”
Tomsic pointed to emails from the Utah Dept. of Health that warned Governor Herbert against cutting off the non-profit organization. She alleged the governor had singled out Planned Parenthood of Utah out of all the other groups that get federal pass-through funding.
“That directive is solely the basis of Governor Herbert’s political and personal viewpoint opposing abortion,” she said.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office disputed that Planned Parenthood was being singled out from any other government contractor. Judge Waddoups questioned it.
“In this case, the governor’s decision had nothing to do with the material services that were bring provided to the state,” the judge said.
“We have a situation where you have a government contractor that is associated with an entity that is alleged to be doing something illegal,” assistant Utah Attorney General Tyler Green replied.
Green argued the state has a right to exercise discretion in its contracts, and there was nothing unreasonable with what it did based on Planned Parenthood of Utah’s association with the national organization.
The state conceded the governor issued his declaration in reaction to the videos. However, the Utah Attorney General’s Office disputed it was retaliation based on his personal views of abortion.
“They are asking the court to draw an inference,” Green told the judge.
Tomsic showed the judge a list of talking points written for the governor for an appearance at an anti-abortion rally that were obtained in the court case. She said they discuss about how to “emphasize your support for life in the law” and mentioning “one organization… that has brought us here today.”
Judge Waddoups questioned whether the investigations into the national Planned Parenthood organization were enough to justify the state’s action.
“Is it sufficient if the governor has one good ground to order to cut off the funds?” the judge asked Tomsic.
“Saying ‘We think you might have done something wrong and I don’t like you because you stand up for abortion’ doesn’t mean he had a good motive,” she replied.
Judge Waddoups could issue a ruling at any time, but lawyers for the state said the funding for Planned Parenthood will not expire until Dec. 31. Outside of court, Tomsic said she believed the organization would prevail.
"All you have to do is look at what he said," she said, adding that the governor could be deposed if the case continues on.
Lawyers for the Utah Attorney General's Office left court declining to answer many questions from reporters, only saying they had a "good, substantive discussion" on the issues.
"We'll wait to see what the judge said about them," Green said.