Thursday, April 19, 2018
In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Himes, a unanimous Sixth Circuit panel, affirming the district judge, found Ohio 's Revised Code § 3701.034 unconstitutional under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. The Ohio statute prohibited all funds it receives through six non-abortion-related federal health programs, such as the Violence Against Women Act, from being used to fund any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions, or becomes or continues to be an affiliate of any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions. The statute was aimed at Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.
The state relied upon cases such as Maher v. Roe and Rust v. Sullivan, but the court's opinion, authored by Judge Helene White, stated:
Plaintiffs do not claim an entitlement to government funds. They acknowledge the government’s right to define the parameters of its own programs, and have complied with all program requirements. What they do claim is a right not to be penalized in the administration of government programs based on protected activity outside the programs.
Instead, Judge White wrote, the correct precedent was Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (AOSI) (2013). Recall that in the "prostitution-pledge" case, the United States Supreme Court held unconstitutional under the First Amendment a provision of a federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work. For the Sixth Circuit, AOSI "reiterated that the government may not require the surrender of constitutional rights as a condition of participating in an unrelated government program." In short,
the government cannot directly prohibit Plaintiffs from providing and advocating for abortion on their own time and dime, [ and thus ] it may not do so by excluding them from government programs for which they otherwise qualify and which have nothing to do with the government’s choice to disfavor abortion.
The Sixth Circuit found that the Ohio statute violated unconstitutional conditions based on constitutional infringements of both the Due Process Clause and the First Amendment. On the due process issue, the court found that the due process right to an abortion was at issue. The court rejected the "importation" of the undue burden standard into this analysis, but also reasoned that even under the undue burden analysis, especially in the United States Supreme Court's most recent abortion ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the statute violated due process.
On the First Amendment claim, relating to the Ohio statute's denial of funds to any organization that promotes abortions, again the Sixth Circuit quoted Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (AOSI): the government does not "have the authority to attach ‘conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself.’ "
While there is some potential for a circuit split given the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Planned Parenthood of Indiana, Inc. v. Commissioner of Indiana State Department of Health, 699 F.3d 962 (7th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 569 U.S. 1004 (2013), the Sixth Circuit extensively analyzes the Seventh Circuit's opinion and concludes that because it was decided before Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (AOSI), it is no longer persuasive.