Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against Ohio officials on Wednesday over a plan by the state to restrict the U.S. healthcare agency's access to state and federal funds, saying the action is unconstitutional, court filings showed.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of Planned Parenthood branches of greater Ohio and of the southwest region, says attempts to defund the healthcare agency and several affiliated programs are an "extreme punishment" exacted solely because it offers abortion services as part of its range of care, the document shows.
The Ohio bill was signed by Governor John Kasich in February and bars the state from contracts with organizations that perform or promote abortions. It is set to take effect on May 23.
Agency officials also said such actions violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution for singling out Planned Parenthood and treating it differently than Ohio treats other healthcare providers.
The lawsuit is the fifteenth Planned Parenthood has filed over access to care at its centers since mid-2015, which was when anti-abortion activists began releasing a string of videos purporting to show group officials negotiating prices for aborted fetal tissue.
At the time, Planned Parenthood denied any wrongdoing and said the videos were both distorted and politically motivated. Officials in 12 states have since blocked efforts to cut funding from the clinic, and the federal director of Medicaid, a government healthcare program for the poor, warned states in April against cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood simply because its services include abortions.
Abortion continues to be a highly contentious issue in the United States, where the procedure is legal but can be limited and regulated by individual states.
Planned Parenthood officials said they were asking the court to hand down an order before the law takes effect at the end of the month. If allowed to continue, the action would "constitute an undue, constitutionally intolerable burden on the abortion rights of Ohio women," the filing said.
"We'll continue to fight in court for our patients in Ohio and across the country," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement.
Ohio Right to Life director Katie Franklin responded to the lawsuit, calling it "frivolous."
"The State of Ohio has every right and reason to cut off state funding from entities that do not fit our state policy to prefer childbirth over abortion," she said in a statement.
(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by James Dalgleish)