Obama administration accused of hiding documents about grant to Planned Parenthood

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Dominick Reuter)The Planned Parenthood logo is pictured outside a clinic in Boston, Massachusetts. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England received a non-competitive grant from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2011 after the state withheld funding from the abortion provider. Now, New Hampshire Right to Life wants to know how HHS reached its decision. It is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to force HHS to hand over documents about the grant.

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to intervene in a case by Alliance Defending Freedom who filed a brief  on behalf of New Hampshire Right to Life (NHRTL) claiming the Obama Administration cannot withhold documents related to a federal grant given to Planned Parenthood's New England branch in 2011.

The grant, which was non-competitive, was given to the abortion provider without going through normal approval processes and after the state of New Hampshire had declined to fund Planned Parenthood in its budget that year. In other words, the federal government stepped in to ensure the organization could maintain its operation in New Hampshire.

The government is withholding documents that are critical in evaluating this apparently illegal funding, which the Obama administration granted despite New Hampshire's grave concerns and without following standard protocols. The administration's ongoing defense of Planned Parenthood and the secrecy surrounding its funding is completely unacceptable.
- Michael Tierney, allied attorney with ADF

ADF and attorney Michael Tierney are already representing NHRTL in a case against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit claimed HHS was not required to release the documents under what is commonly called a "deliberative process privilege." Under such an exemption, internal documents about potential outcomes, process changes or email threads discussing a policy objective are protected. NHRTL, however, argues the Freedom of Information Act requires HHS to release any information about Title X "Family Planning" funding after the decision was made.

Tierney said Americans have a right to know where tax dollars are being spent, especially when an organization like Planned Parenthood has been shown recently to have misused the funds. In April, he filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to force the government to release the documents.

"The government is withholding documents that are critical in evaluating this apparently illegal funding, which the Obama administration granted despite New Hampshire's grave concerns and without following standard protocols. The administration's ongoing defense of Planned Parenthood and the secrecy surrounding its funding is completely unacceptable," Tierney said.

According to ADF, New Hampshire in 2011 decided against awarding a Title X subgrant to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. State officials said the funds were being used for abortion and other activities which the organization refused to disclose.

HHS then stepped in, providing Planned Parenthood with what ADF called "a controversial sole source non-competitive replacement grant" on Aug. 19, 2011. According to ADF, however, the decision to provide the grant was made nine or more days before.

NHRTL asked HHS to provide public documents related to the grant, but HHS refused until a federal court forced them to do so. They did not, however, provide all of the documentation requested – in particular, documents that discuss how HHS could "sell" the decision to provide the funding.

"HHS has continued to refuse to provide certain grant documents on the grounds that they might affect Planned Parenthood's 'competitive position' if it faces a commercial grant competitor in the future. HHS also refused to produce information about its own debates over how to sell the controversial decision to the public," a statement from ADF said.

In the request for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, ADF and NHRTL argued:

Americans are already being forced to fund Planned Parenthood, which has become the subject of numerous state investigations in recent days, with more than 0 million in taxpayer dollars annually.
- Casey Mattox, ADF Senior Counsel

"The First Circuit held that the decision to award the grant to Planned Parenthood was made on August 19, 2011. ... Therefore, agency communications made after August 19, 2011 and designed to explain HHS's August 19, 2011 decision cannot be withheld under the Deliberative Process Privilege. Nevertheless, the First Circuit held that any communications relating to the 'Department's decision of how and what to communicate to the public,' could be withheld under the Deliberative Process Privilege. This is directly contrary to established precedents of this Court as well as earlier decisions of the First Circuit which had previously recognized that 'post-decisional documents explaining or justifying a decision already made are not shielded' by the deliberative process privilege."

"Americans are already being forced to fund Planned Parenthood, which has become the subject of numerous state investigations in recent days, with more than $500 million in taxpayer dollars annually," ADF's Senior Counsel Casey Mattox said.

"At the very least, the government must be transparent about this money. Since Planned Parenthood is already the subject of repeated state and federal audits and whistleblower lawsuits for waste, abuse, and potential fraud of taxpayer dollars, not to mention ongoing federal and state investigations over possible baby parts trafficking, the government should comply with the law and come clean about the funding."

Last week, New Hampshire's Executive Council voted to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood again – this time permanently.