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The state fights itself over abortion

January 15, 2002
By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The state argued against itself on the issue of abortion Tuesday, as the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Planned Parenthood case.

The 3-year-old case, debating whether Planned Parenthood can get state funding for family planning, was argued by attorneys hired by the state.

Attorney Roger Evans was hired by the Health Department to represent Planned Parenthood.

Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed Jordan Cherrick, a private attorney to represent the state at the insistence of state lawmakers who argued Nixon, did not support legislative efforts to block funding to Planned Parenthood.

St. Louis Planned Parenthood President Paula Gianino said the state has hired lawyers to fight against each other.

Nixon is fighting against himself at the taxpayers' expense she said.

"On the one hand, he is saying we have a legal contract with Planned Parenthood and you are in compliance, and on the other hand saying well maybe we should challenge this in court," Gianino said.

Missouri is suing Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri for funds the Health Department gave to the organization plus 9 percent interest.

The state argued that Planned Parenthood did not comply with the requirements necessary to get this money, such as not supporting abortions.

According to Evans, Planned Parenthood did not directly or indirectly support or subsidize abortions.

The Health Dept. wrote a contract specifying the requirements Planned Parenthood must meet to receive state funds.

Planned Parenthood attorney Roger Evens argued that the organization has complied with the contract.

However, he said that even if the court finds that Planned Parenthood has not met the contract's requirements, the legal proceedings are invalid because Cherrick was not given authority to challenge the contract's wording.

Evans said Nixon had no problem with the contract's wording.

Gianino said Planned Parenthood complied with its contract.

"We signed the contract willingly," she said. "We knew what we were supposed to do and we followed that contract to the letter."

Cherrick argued that Planned Parenthood did not comply with the contract's requirements.

He also said that even if the court finds Planned Parenthood in compliance the director's words were misused, making the contract illegal. Therefore, the funds should still be repaid.

Judge Laura Denvir Stith asked Cherrick how much he was getting paid, but he could not give exact figures. Cherrick skirted further questions on whether the contract was fair.

Gianino said if Planned Parenthood had to repay the state's money, which Evans estimated to be around $200,000, it would come at great hardship. President of the Kansas and Mid-Missouri Planned Parenthood Peter B. Brownlie agreed.

"Pharmaceutical companies aren't going to give us back the funds that we paid for the medications," Brownlie said. "We're not going to go back to the physicians and nurses and counselors who served those patients and ask for their salary back when we provided the care."

Cherrick refused to comment after the court session.