You may not have realized it, but Planned Parenthood has an absolute right to taxpayer dollars — so says Planned Parenthood of Tennessee. The organization’s Tennessee branch is suing the state government for pulling funding for “political” reasons. Excerpt:
Two Tennessee Planned Parenthood groups sued the state Thursday for denying the nonprofit more than $150,000 in grant money to participate in programs funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Planned Parenthood wants a federal judge to intervene and asked for an injunction against the state.
In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood accuses the state of arbitrarily denying the funding in December and this month — without providing a reason — after approving it in August. Planned Parenthood also accuses the state of violating the organization’s First Amendment rights and patients’ rights by restricting access to non-abortion services based solely on an aversion to abortion.
While the state did not provide Planned Parenthood a reason for denying it access to the grant money, Gov. Bill Haslam and his political allies have been open about their opposition to funding the organization with government money.
Of course it’s politically motivated, fools! Whatever a legislature does is politically motivated. So what? Last time I checked, in a democracy, legislatures have the right to allocate taxpayer dollars as they see fit. If voters don’t like it, they can vote the politicians out.
Planned Parenthood lost a political fight, so they’re asking the court to fight for them. The Tennessee governor and his legislative allies may have made a bad call here, but it is utterly galling that Planned Parenthood thinks it has a right to taxpayer dollars, despite the will of the taxpayers, as expressed through their elected representatives. If a liberal Democratic state government defunded an organization favored by social conservatives, that might anger me, but I couldn’t imagine thinking that my favored group had some kind of unassailable claim on taxpayer dollars. That is wildly undemocratic.
The implication of Planned Parenthood’s First Amendment complaint is that abortion is somehow a sacred topic, removed from ordinary politics. They appear to be saying that because a democratically elected government dislikes the organization’s involvement in abortion, it has no right to decide not to fund other things the organization does. That is a bizarre First Amendment claim. The Tennessee government is not telling Planned Parenthood it cannot provide abortions, or advocate for abortion and abortion rights. It is not telling Planned Parenthood it cannot solicit private donations to fund its services. The government is merely telling the organization that it will not provide money to it. What on earth does that have to do with a First Amendment violation? Are we to think that it’s unconstitutional to refuse to give government money to Planned Parenthood?
The reader who sent this item to me remarked:
Good grief. So now people don’t have the right to stop state money from going to Planned Parenthood because of an “aversion to abortion.” We don’t just have to allow unrestricted access to abortion on demand, we have to pretend to like it? Or get sued?
UPDATE: Philosopher, a reader, points out below that the US Supreme Court sided with the KKK some years ago when the State of Missouri tried to keep the Klan from participating in an Adopt-a-Highway program, because it disapproved of the Klan’s beliefs. That is news to me. This would seem to put the state of Tennessee at a significant disadvantage in this case. One possible difference: Tennessee doesn’t seem to object to Planned Parenthood’s advocacy of abortion, but rather that it provides abortions. Another possible difference: the Missouri case didn’t involve the disbursal of funds, but rather permission to participate in a state-run program.
Question to lawyers, then: is it really the case that if Planned Parenthood wants government money, the government has to give it to them? That can’t be right. What are the guidelines here?