By Sean Murphy
OKLAHOMA CITY —
A federal judge on Monday denied a request by Planned Parenthood to temporarily block Oklahoma from terminating a contract with the agency to provide nutritional services to low-income mothers.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot’s decision to deny Planned Parenthood’s motion for a preliminary injunction means the agency likely will have to close one of its three Tulsa-area clinics and eliminate six full-time staff members when the contracts end Dec. 31, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s President and CEO Jill June said in a statement.
“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 (the federal Women, Infants and Children program) and the many other services we provide,” June said. “While we are convinced of our claim, we will weigh all our possible options going forward.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health notified Planned Parenthood in September that it planned to end agreements it had with three Planned Parenthood for the last 18 years, citing the uncertainty of federal funds, declining caseloads and a higher cost-per-participant rate at clinics in west Tulsa, midtown Tulsa and Broken Arrow.
But Planned Parenthood contends that the actual reason the state decided not to renew the contracts was because the organization offers abortion services at some of its U.S. clinics, although it doesn’t at any of the three Tulsa-area clinics.
Terry Cline, the state’s health commissioner, testified during a hearing about Planned Parenthood’s motion last week that the group’s abortion-related activities should “absolutely not” factor into the state’s decisions on whether to renew or end the contracts. Cline and other Health Department administrators have said the contracts weren’t renewed because of a variety of long-term managerial and administrative problems, including a decline in caseloads, increasing client costs and a failure to resolve budgetary questions.
This year, the clinics received a total of $454,000 to provide WIC services and averaged about 3,000 client visits per month, or about 18 percent of all WIC client visits in Tulsa County, according to state Health Department data.
In his ruling, Friot wrote that while Planned Parenthood’s performance deficiencies, primarily its declining caseloads, do not appear to be enough to result in the termination of its contracts, he added: “But a routine, solvable problem can become a justifiable basis for strong action when it is compounded by persistent unresponsiveness in addressing the challenge. Moreover, the frustrations in getting information out of (Planned Parenthood) on what should have been routine administrative matters rubbed additional salt into the wound.”