Planned Parenthood launches legal battle to keep funding

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Planned Parenthood has fired the opening salvo in its war against the Republican-led defunding campaign that threatens to stretch into the fall.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood announced a lawsuit on Tuesday against Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, claiming he acted illegally by blocking Medicaid funding to the healthcare provider.

It is Planned Parenthood’s first legal step since anti-abortion activists began targeting the group this summer in a bid to shutter its clinics around the country.

There will likely be more lawsuits: Planned Parenthood is also eying the Republican governors in Arkansas and Alabama who have taken similar steps to eliminate its Medicaid funding.

“This political grandstanding could have real and devastating consequences for the women, men and young people who rely on us,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “And that’s why we’re going to fight this with everything we’ve got.”

The organization’s focus on the states could be a shift in strategy. Instead of launching a counterattack against The Center for Medical Progress — the group behind a series of sting videos that have rekindled the national debate over abortion procedures — Planned Parenthood is taking on smaller battles where it thinks it can win.

The Obama administration has warned that the move by Jindal, who is running for president, in Louisiana — as well as a similar effort in Alabama — might be illegal because Medicaid enrollees are entitled to the healthcare provider of their choice.

For some anti-abortion advocates, a lawsuit against Jindal is a signal that Planned Parenthood is still playing defense on the front lines of the battle in Washington, D.C.

“I think they are just trying to keep it quiet. They don’t want to engage because they’re clearly on the defensive here,” said Mallory Quigley, spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List.

She pointed to Planned Parenthood’s effort to keep executives away from media interviews as the video controversy grows. Richards, the group’s president, has not publicly responded to the videos since an appearance on ABC News in late July.

She has, however, apologized for the “tone and statements” of one of her staff members captured in a video, but she and others have maintained the recordings are deceptive and heavily edited as part of a smear campaign.

The eight videos released so far, which feature interviews with Planned Parenthood and partner officials, have tallied millions of online views. They have also raised legal questions, with Planned Parenthood and its supporters arguing that the interviews took place under false pretenses.

Even as Planned Parenthood supporters attack the anti-abortion group’s campaign, the organization has said little about stopping the videos.

Last week, executive vice president Dawn Laguens said “everything is on the table” as the group considers legal action against The Center for Medical Progress.

“I absolutely do believe that they have violated laws in terms of how they secured these videos,” she said in an interview at the group’s D.C. headquarters. “But the fraud is also in how they have presented them and in the editing.”

Legal action is seen as one of Planned Parenthood’s best chances to stop the attacks by a group armed with hundreds of hours of hidden camera footage. New videos have been released weekly, and sometimes twice a week.

But on Tuesday, Planned Parenthood’s legal team was noncommittal on any action against The Center for Medical Progress.

“At this point, this is the only lawsuit by Planned Parenthood,” Carrie Flaxman, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said in a conference call with reporters.

“We’re focusing today on Louisiana, and like I said, we’re really evaluating our options wherever we need to make sure that our patients have access,” Flaxman said when pressed about why the organization isn’t taking action against the group. “At this point, I can’t really speak to the rest of that.”

Planned Parenthood’s battle is also a fight to stay alive. The group receives roughly $500 million from the federal government each year, about 40 percent of its budget.

The funding battle over Planned Parenthood is likely to take center stage this fall, when high-profile Republicans, particularly those in Congress running for president, could threaten a government shutdown to halt the funding.

Still, Congress will be unable to strip funding without President Obama’s approval. That led to several governors, including Jindal, moving to defund the group on a state level by blocking Medicaid dollars. In Louisiana, that was about $730,000 last year.

As the controversy escalates, some of Planned Parenthood’s partners are taking their case to the courts.

Since July, The Center for Medical Progress has been hit by state and federal lawsuits filed by two organizations that were secretly filmed. The National Abortion Federation continues to hold a temporary order that prevents the activists from using footage of its members.

Another request for an injunction from a procurement company called StemExpress was recently rejected in a California court. A video targeting StemExpress was released on Tuesday.

The company is also pursuing legal action against an ex-employee who has made damaging claims about her work with fetal tissue in extensive interviews for The Center for Medical Progress.

Abortion rights groups have rushed to the defense of Planned Parenthood with social media campaigns in which politicians and celebrities declare their support.

“Exactly what we’re seeing right now is a rallying around the critical services that Planned Parenthood provides,” said Marcy Stech, spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, a pro-abortion-rights group that is using GOP candidates’ critical statements about Planned Parenthood to attack them on women’s issues.

“Having a movement that is focused on how important it is to empower and uplift women and their families is the most powerful tool we can have in our toolbox,” she said. “We have facts on our side. Republicans and the right have a fake and discredited organization.”

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