WASHINGTON — States may not cut off their payments to private groups because the groups offer, among other things, abortions or abortion counseling, the Supreme Court ruled today.
By a 5-3 vote, the court upheld rulings that Arizona's payment policy violated the constitutional rights of Planned Parenthood organizations in the state.
Although today's decision was not accompanied by any written opinions, it sets a national precedent. Eve Paul, vice president of legal affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the agency was "just delighted" with the decision because of its potential impact on Planned Parenthood affiliates in many states.
"It would affect all of them because although we only have about 45 of our affiliates that actually provide abortion services, all of our affiliates provide abortion counseling. So it affects all our Planned Parenthood clinics," she said from the agency's headquarters in New York.
"The effect of this decision will be to discourage other states from attempting to interfere with providing abortions with private money and also referring women for abortion counseling," she said.
Without waiting to conduct oral arguments in the case, the court affirmed a ruling that such state payment cutoffs interfere with constitutionally protected abortion rights.
Review Not Supported
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Byron R. White and Antonin Scalia voted to hear arguments in the abortion case, but four votes are needed to grant such review.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did not participate in the case.
The high court nine years ago said states have no legal obligation to pay for "non-therapeutic" abortions. And six years ago the justices went further, ruling that the federal government and individual states do not have to fund even most therapeutic abortions.
At issue in the Arizona case was whether state monies may be withheld from organizations offering abortion-related services even if the state funds themselves are not used for such services.
The state Legislature in 1980 restricted the use of state money for abortion-related activities.
The legislation was challenged by Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona and by Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona.
A federal trial judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state, saying the cutoff unduly interfered with constitutionally protected abortion rights.
Also today, the court refused to order the reinstatement of busing to racially desegregate elementary schools in Norfolk, Va.
The justices, over one dissenting vote, let stand the local school board's Neighborhood Elementary Schools Plan that went into effect in September. The plan was called by opponents a tool of "resegregation."
Cross-town busing of young children to racially balance Norfolk's 35 public elementary schools had been part of a court-ordered desegregation plan there since 1971, even though the school system was declared fully integrated in 1975.
The city school board voted in 1983 to abandon busing for racial balance in elementary schools. Under the plan that took effect Sept. 2, children are allowed to attend the elementary school closest to their homes.