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SALT LAKE CITY — State officials are complying with a judge's temporary order to keep funds flowing to Planned Parenthood in Utah and now say they'll extend funding to the organization until the end of the year.
In an explanation of the decision, Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said it was a time- and cost-cutting measure while a lawsuit works its way through court.
"Every time we have to go through this exercise it takes staff time and attorney time, so we figured that by running everything out to Dec. 31 that that would give the court process time to play itself out," said Hudachko, who added that the decision was made by staff in the health department, the governor's office and their attorneys. "We don't want to be in that position of every two or three weeks having to go through this same exercise."
In a press release announcing the health department's decision, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway said she is "pleased that we will continue to receive funding while this matter is in the courts."
Health officials informed Planned Parenthood in a letter sent on Thursday that they would extend funding to Dec. 31 for several contracts that they had previously moved to terminate or let expire.
Planned Parenthood is battling with state officials over a directive from Herbert last month that directed the health department to stop passing federal funds to Planned Parenthood.
Herbert's order, made in response to several secretly-recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials bargaining over the price of fetal tissue, put about $273,000 in question. The money funds an STD testing project, an initiative to develop an STD tracking database and two sex education programs.
Planned Parenthood sued Herbert and the head of the health department on Monday, arguing that Herbert's order violates the organization's equal protection, due process and free association rights.
A federal judge on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order stopping Herbert's directive to cut off funding to the group. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups scheduled a hearing for Oct. 15 to consider a longer-term injunction that would put the governor's order on hold pending the outcome of the lawsuit. The judge said it was in the public interest to maintain the services Planned Parenthood provides, and the state made no arguments proving otherwise.
Herbert spokeswoman Aimee Edwards said in a statement that the governor "complied with the order of the court" in extending funding, but that the action "does not deter Gov. Herbert's resolve to carry out his directive."
Teachers and facilitators who run the after-school programs now at risk of being defunded say they've been following the case closely.
Britnie Powell, a math and science teacher at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education — a charter school sponsored by Salt Lake City School District that serves many low-income and minority students — said she immediately thought of her after-school program when news of the governor's directive broke.
One of the contracts up in the air is for an after-school youth development program Planned Parenthood provides training and funding for.
Powell, who facilitates the program at her school, said it serves about 30 students and is focused largely on community service. The 15 to 20 high school students in the program contributed 600 volunteer hours last year, she said, including time spent visiting older adults with mental health issues and volunteering with the homeless. About once a month, the program includes lessons on healthy relationships and touches on things like safe sex and contraception, she said.
Powell said Planned Parenthood officials have assured her they would continue to fund the program even if federal funding was cut off.
"It's unfortunate for them to lose this funding because this is not controversial funding," she said.
"The vast majority of what I see on social media and what I hear people discussing seems to center around abortion and around the selling of fetal tissues. When I talk to people and tell them, 'Well, the funding that Planned Parenthood is losing is the funding that goes to support youth education programs,' people are genuinely surprised to hear that," she said.
Every time we have to go through this exercise it takes staff time and attorney time, so we figured that by running everything out to Dec. 31 that that would give the court process time to play itself out. We don't want to be in that position of every two or three weeks having to go through this same exercise.
–Tom Hudachko, Utah Department of Health spokesman
University of Utah physics and astronomy assistant professor Tino Nyawelo, who runs an after-school program for young refugees out of the U.'s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, said he had been following developments "very closely."
Nyawelo said he started the program a year ago in an attempt to address STDs and teen pregnancy in the refugee community. He said Herbert's efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in Utah are "a shame."
"The reasoning doesn't fit what Planned Parenthood is doing, at least (in regards) to the teaching of our kids," he said.
Nyawelo's program serves about 73 middle and high school-age students — all from places like Sudan, Iraq and Bhutan. The program is the same one offered at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education. His students prepare meals for parents whose children are battling cancer and also receive comprehensive sex education — with parental permission.
He's worried that the program might lose its funding, but Planned Parenthood officials have committed to funding the program for the next school year, Nyawelo said.
"After that, we don't know," he said.
Daphne Chen is a reporter for the Deseret News and KSL.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.