Federal judge turns down Planned Parenthood challenge

Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge has turned down a challenge to the state decision to defund Women, Infant and Children services through Planned Parenthood’s Tulsa health centers.

Planned Parenthood’s current contract is set to expire Dec. 31.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot denied Planned Parenthood’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the Oklahoma Health Department from ending its contracts with the Tulsa clinics.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood had argued the organization’s support for abortion rights played a role in the department’s decision not to renew the contracts for the federal program, although state Health Commissioner Terry Cline testified last week that that was not the case.

The WIC program provides nutrition education and food vouchers for women and children.

The agency gave Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma notice in September that it was terminating the contract after starting the legal process to renew the contract in August, according to testimony last week.

Terry J. Bryce, chief of the WIC program for the Health Department, said he recommended termination because the organization had a large decrease in clients, had a higher per-client cost for services and was unresponsive to repeated requests for information from his agency.

Bryce said he did so anticipating that he would be asked about it, but the decision to terminate the contract had nothing to do with abortion, he said.

Cline testified that no pressure was brought on him by politicians or members of his board about the contract.

Planned Parenthood officials said they were unsure of their next step.

“We are truly disappointed with today’s court ruling and the impact it will have on the women and children in the Tulsa area who have relied on Planned Parenthood for WIC and the many other services we provide,” said Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “While we are convinced of our claim, we will weigh all our possible options going forward.”

Without a preliminary injunction in place, Planned Parenthood will be forced to stop WIC services on Dec. 31, meaning six full-time staff members will be eliminated and the group may close its west Tulsa health center.

“Planned Parenthood will remain in Tulsa as a trusted provider of women’s health care, family practice and reproductive health education for thousands of people who rely on us for their health care needs,” June said. “Planned Parenthood will be here for our patients no matter what.”

The WIC program is a federal grant program to provide supplemental foods and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breast-feeding women, infants, and young children who are found by a health professional to be at nutritional risk.

Planned Parenthood has participated in the Oklahoma Women, Infants and Children Program for 18 years and is the largest independent provider of WIC in Tulsa County, providing services to nearly 3,000 women, infants, and children in September 2012.