Abortion providers have no constitutional right to perform abortions, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, upholding an Ohio law that would direct $1.5 million away from Planned Parenthood.
The law, passed in 2016, required the state health department to disperse funds to entities that don’t provide or promote abortions. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region filed the suit, saying the law interfered with abortion access and their free speech. A federal judge blocked the law in 2016, and a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit initially ruled against it in 2018.
In an 11-6 vote, the full 6th Circuit ruled last week that individuals have the right to file suit to restore funding to abortion providers, but “medical centers do not have a constitutional right to offer abortions.”
“Just as [the state] has no obligation to provide a platform for an individual’s free speech, say a Speaker’s Corner in downtown Columbus, it has no obligation to pay for a woman’s abortion,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote on behalf of the majority. “Case after case establishes that a government may refuse to subsidize abortion services.”
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, celebrated the win for the law, which his organization helped promote. “Ohio Right to Life is absolutely thrilled that Planned Parenthood will not get any more of our state tax dollars. Thanks to this very encouraging decision, Ohioans of conscience won’t have to worry about whether their tax dollars are going toward abortions,” he said.
Liberty Counsel attorney Roger Gannam told me the ruling could affect other state battles over abortion funding.
“It may settle for other courts that no provider has a constitutional right to provide abortions,” Gannam said. “And it’s a further chipping-away at the overall sort of undefined abortion right that Roe v. Wade gave us. It … perhaps presents the ultimate case that will get to the Supreme Court to overrule or significantly roll back Roe v. Wade.”
The current legal landscape begs for a Supreme Court decision on whether states have the right to defund abortion providers. In December, the Supreme Court refused to take two cases on Planned Parenthood funding originating in Louisiana and Kansas. In those cases, Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of individuals, not just itself. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote at the time that the Supreme Court had created confusion over whether states can direct money away from abortion providers and “should clear it up.”
Planned Parenthood hasn’t said if it plans to appeal the Ohio ruling to the Supreme Court, but Gannam said he expects it will. If the abortion giant hesitates, it could be because of the possibility that the high court would solidify the 6th Circuit’s ruling.
“I think everyone’s question is, what will Judge Roberts do?” said Gannam, referring to Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted not to review the Planned Parenthood decisions in December. “And I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.”