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Planned Parenthood battle signals fresh twist in abortion wars

An unprecedented number of states are targeting funding for abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. The farthest-reaching effort, in Indiana, is facing a legal challenge.

By Staff writer / June 9, 2011

Betty Cockrum (l.), president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, and attorney Ken Faulk, standing outside the federal courthouse in Indianapolis Monday, discuss a hearing in federal court where the group is seeking an injunction against a law ending most of their state funding.

Michael Conroy/AP

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The campaign against Planned Parenthood from Congress to Kansas is part of the broadest legislative attack against funding for abortion services since abortion became legal in 1973, say activists.

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Antiabortion legislation in Congress and the states is nothing new. But 11 states this year have targeted the funding of organizations that perform abortions, most notably Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

While some suggest that providers should consider radical measures to ease the political pressure – such as separating abortion services from their other health-care programs – Planned Parenthood is taking the matter to court. What happens in an Indiana courtroom, where Planned Parenthood is challenging the strictest funding ban, could determine whether the trend gains momentum or comes to a halt.

“We’ve never seen this number of attacks [on abortion providers’ funding] in one year,” says Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute in Washington, which advocates affordable reproductive health care. “Usually, it’s a couple of states. This is very different.”

The effort to attack Planned Parenthood’s financing received a major boost earlier this year, with the launching of Expose Planned Parenthood – a coalition of antiabortion groups that alleged Planned Parenthood colluded in the sexual exploitation of minors. One of the groups in the campaign released “sting” videos that it said provided evidence of this collusion.

The coalition called for Planned Parenthood's defunding by Congress. House Republicans responded by pushing to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood in the 2011 budget, though they eventually failed.

Since then, states have picked up the torch. The 11 states that have introduced measures this year either to ban groups like Planned Parenthood from receiving family-planning funding or prevent them from contracting with the state include: Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Among these, Indiana’s law, which has already been signed, is the farthest reaching and most closely watched. It prohibits the state from contracting with any family planning agency that provides abortions. Federal officials have said the law runs afoul of Medicaid guidelines, and Planned Parenthood is currently challenging it in court.

Split Planned Parenthood in two?

Indiana lawmakers have suggested that Planned Parenthood could remove itself from their scrutiny by establishing a separate corporate organization for its abortion services, which would make the other health-related services it provides still eligible for Medicaid funding.

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