By: Shannon Muchmore
Original Article: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=17&articleid=20121110_17_A1_Planne812927
Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Friday to stop the State Department of Health from discontinuing the organization’s WIC services at the end of the year.
In late September, the State Department of Health decided not to renew its WIC contract with Planned Parenthood.
Officials cited the program’s relatively high cost per participant and decrease in case loads, as well as faulty billing practices as the reasons for the contract termination.
The Women, Infant and Children program provides supplemental nutrition assistance to low-income women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, as well as to children younger than 5.
Planned Parenthood, the largest independent provider in the Tulsa area, has three clinics in the area with WIC services. They see about 3,000 WIC visits a month, according to the organization. Those clinics will continue with their other operations.
The contract was ended Sept. 30, but the health department gave an extension until the end of the year.
“Planned Parenthood has been a trusted WIC provider for nearly two decades – but this case isn’t about us, it’s about the Oklahoma women and families who count on us,” Planned Parenthood staff attorney Tamya Cox said in a statement. “Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to health services – or food for her children.”
A spokeswoman with the Oklahoma State Department of Health said officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
In court papers filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Oklahoma City, Planned Parenthood argues that none of the department’s reasons for ending the contract hold up under scrutiny.
Although caseload numbers had been falling, they were on the rise at the time the contract was terminated. Also, the organization is routinely audited and its most recent audit did not raise concerns about its performance, according to the court filing.
Cost per participant was slightly higher because clinics were open for extended hours and occasionally on the weekends. The department never told the organization its costs were too high and if it had, Planned Parenthood would have worked to reduce them, according to the filing.
“An independent evaluation of three reasons offered by state officials in media reports by the Oklahoma Policy Institute also found ‘none of the reasons given by OSDH for the abrupt termination of Planned Parenthood’s WIC program are accurate representations of the facts,’ ” Cox said.
In May 2011 state legislators attempted to remove Planned Parenthood as a state WIC provider. The bill’s author said he and others believed no taxpayer dollars should go to Planned Parenthood. The measure ultimately failed.
Planned Parenthood does not perform abortions in Oklahoma. It gives referrals for them.
The lawsuit, which names Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline as defendant, seeks to stop the State Department of Health from terminating Planned Parenthood’s WIC contract.
It claims the department has violated the organization’s First and 14th Amendment rights “by imposing a penalty on its advocacy for access to safe and legal abortion services, referrals for abortion and/or its association with abortion services.”
Cox said Planned Parenthood will do what it can to continue its services past the year-end cutoff.
“We will pursue our available legal remedies to ensure that Planned Parenthood remains able to provide crucial WIC services to women, children and infants in Tulsa on January 1,” she said.