Just weeks after the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the “Protect Life” federal regulations, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted en banc (full court) review of a federal trial court ruling enjoining the same regulations. As we explained earlier, the “Protect Life” regulations prohibit the use of Title X money “to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.” Title X is a federal program dedicated to providing preconception family planning services to the nation’s neediest citizens.
Because Planned Parenthood continues to insist on performing abortions, this regulation has defunded the abortion giant of about $60 million in taxpayer money that it used to count on.
In mid-February this year, a Maryland federal district court judge permanently enjoined the Protect Life regulations. The injunction barred enforcement of the regulations throughout the entire state of Maryland even though only the City of Baltimore challenged the regulations. The district court essentially ruled that the pro-abortion medical groups who opposed the Protect Life regulations deserved more credence than the Supreme Court’s decision in Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991) which upheld nearly identical regulations. As did the federal district courts in California, Oregon and Washington, the Maryland court exalted the pro-abortion views of medical groups above binding Supreme Court precedent. Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed all three left coast district court decisions.
The Maryland permanent injunction is now on appeal before the Fourth Circuit. Unlike the Ninth Circuit, however, the Fourth Circuit refused to stay the district court’s injunction. Consequently, Maryland is the only state in the nation where Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers continue to be subsidized with taxpayer funds under Title X. In addition, the Fourth Circuit took the highly unusual step of granting full court review before a 3-judge panel weighed in on the merits. The normal course is for a panel of three appellate judges to decide all cases at the federal appellate level. Full court (en banc) review is then granted only in rare cases and only if a majority of the court, including the judges on the original three judge panel, vote to grant such review. But the Fourth Circuit dispensed with consideration by a three-judge panel. Under the Court’s prior cases, such a dramatic departure from settled practice is only justified in the rarest of extraordinary cases.
The Fourth Circuit’s refusal to stay an injunction that singles out one state for special treatment does not bode well for this case. The Fourth Circuit’s avoidance of normal appellate process is also potentially a bad sign.
However, the silver lining here is that this case is limited to ONLY one state, and the defunding of millions of dollars from Planned Parenthood remains in full effect across the entire rest of the nation. That is still a victory of immense magnitude.
We will be monitoring this case closely. If the Fourth Circuit disagrees with the Ninth Circuit and decides that it can thumb its nose at the Supreme Court’s decision in Rust v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court will almost certainly grant review to resolve the disagreement between the two appellate courts. If the Court grants review, the ACLJ will, with your help, continue its defense of the Protect Life Regulations and the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
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