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Judge denies Planned Parenthood's motion for preliminary injunction

ILE - Gov. Gary Herbert during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Salt Lake City.
ILE - Gov. Gary Herbert during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has denied Planned Parenthood Association of Utah's request to stop Gov. Gary Herbert from blocking federal funds from going to the reproductive health organization.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups said Tuesday that Planned Parenthood Association of Utah did not meet its burden of proof for a preliminary injunction. He also canceled the temporary restraining order that the organization had against the state.

The Utah Department of Health will stop passing federal funds to Planned Parenthood Association of Utah while the lawsuit moves forward.

Herbert applauded the court's decision.

"The governor has to make decisions and those are sometimes discretionary and it’s part of what my responsibility is as we enter into many contracts with folks out there," Herbert said on KSL Newsradio's "Doug Wright Show."

The funds in question — totaling about $273,000 in grants from the federal government — will be redistributed to local health departments and other service providers "to provide the same kind of health care to women that Planned Parenthood was doing,” Herbert said.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway called the court's decision "regrettable."

“We are reviewing next steps with our attorneys, and we will be looking at every possible way to continue the critical health care and education programs that are at risk," Galloway said in a prepared statement.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued Herbert in September after he ordered the state health department to stop disbursing funds to the organization in light of "ongoing concerns about the organization." Herbert announced his order after the release of several secretly-recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials bargaining over the price of fetal tissue.

Officials from the national Planned Parenthood organization have called the videos highly edited and misleading.

The money was slated for two sex education programs, an STD testing program and an STD tracking database.

Other than the STD tracking database, which is already operational but was not fully completed, “We don’t see any reason why there should be a reduction in services,” said Tom Hudachko, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health.

"There are other contractors already in place," he said.

Herbert said redistributing the funds may expand available services.

"If anything, we’ll have additional access points, more access points, better access to women’s health, so the idea that this is somehow going to harm women is fallacious," Herbert said.

But school officials and teachers who facilitate the after-school programs funded by the grants expressed dismay.

Britnie Powell, a sixth-grade teacher at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, called the judge’s decisions "very disappointing."

"Too many people believe that cutting this particular funding will defund abortions, but that just isn't the case," Powell said in an email. "What is being defunded is good programs."

She said the students in her club have tallied 350 hours of community service learning this year, including teaching science outreach classes and volunteering at the Humane Society.

Barbara Kuehl, the director of academic services at the Salt Lake City School District, said in October that Planned Parenthood is the only organization in the state that sponsors the program used at the district's Horizonte Instruction and Training Center and other schools.

"I don't know of any alternatives," Kuehl said. "It's the only one directed in this way where they're taking this positive approach to the risky behaviors, and it's got a research base behind it."

The after-school program is about "life skills in general — being assertive and advocating for yourself and being involved in service and the community,” Kuehl said. Students in the program need parental permission to be there.

Galloway has said repeatedly that Planned Parenthood Association of Utah will continue to provide services as usual. The federal funding in question represents less than 4 percent of the organization's annual budget.

In his written order, Waddoups said Planned Parenthood Association of Utah failed to prove Herbert was acting unconstitutionally by retaliating against the organization for being an abortion provider.

Herbert made his announcement after the videos were released, suggesting he was motivated by concern over illegal activity, according to the judge's written order. That's something he has the right to do, Waddoups argued.

“The state has acted as an intermediary to pass through federal funds to plaintiff, and has concluded it no longer desires to do so,” Waddoups wrote. "It is contrary to the public's interest to remove from the governor the very discretion his position entails."

William Duncan, the director of the Center for Family and Society at the Sutherland Institute, a think tank that champions “authentic conservatism,” said the court’s decision was the right one.

“In light of the disclosures about the activities of some of Planned Parenthood’s other affiliates, individual citizens had the ability to approve or endorse what the organization was doing through their personal donations or refusal to give,” Duncan said. “The state of Utah, through its elected officials, deserved that same ability to express disapproval.”

Email: dchen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DaphneChen_