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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Utah can cut off federal funds to the state's Planned Parenthood organization, a move the Republican governor ordered after the release of secretly recorded videos by an anti-abortion group.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups reversed an earlier decision temporarily ordering the money to keep flowing to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
His ruling allows Utah to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood while the organization still pursues its lawsuit against the state.
Like Utah, other states have moved to cut funding to Planned Parenthood chapters. The organization has filed lawsuits in Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana to block them from stripping contracts and federal money distributed by the states.
The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued the state in October, arguing Gov. Gary Herbert's move to block the money violated its First Amendment right to advocate for or perform abortions.
Herbert stopped about $275,000 in federal funds for sexually transmitted disease testing and sex education programs. His move followed the release of the undercover videos by a California anti-abortion group. The activists claim the videos show Planned Parenthood officials in Texas and other states discussing fetal tissue from abortions.
Planned Parenthood in Utah argued Herbert was acting in response to unproven allegations that the officials illegally sold fetal tissue from abortions for medical research.
Even though the Utah group has not engaged in wrongdoing, it is affiliated with other Planned Parenthood entities "that have allegedly engaged in illegal conduct," Waddoups said in his ruling.
The judge said Utah's government has an interest "in avoiding the appearance of corruption," and any harm from ending the contracts is outweighed by the risk to the state if it's denied its right to end contracts at will.
Allowing the contracts to continue, Waddoups said, could reasonably be perceived by Utah citizens as approval of wrongful conduct.
Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, called the judge's ruling "regrettable," and said the organization is working to figure out its next steps. She said in a statement that Planned Parenthood will keep pursing the lawsuit against the state.
Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said the contracts with Planned Parenthood will remain in place through 2015.
In a statement Tuesday, Herbert said he appreciated the judge's ruling and that it recognized his power to make contract decisions on Utah's behalf.
Herbert said he will work with the state's health department and others to ensure that residents still have access to the STD and sex education services.
Herbert has said he was offended by the callousness of the discussion shown on the videos.
Planned Parenthood has said it only recouped expenses for providing tissue to researchers, and the videos were heavily edited. The organization later said it would no longer accept any sort of payment to cover the costs of those programs, which it says only takes place in California and Washington.
The videos spawned multiple investigations in Congress and several states but none has shown Planned Parenthood broke any law.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood in Utah argued that stopping the money for STD and sex education programs would leave thousands of people at risk. State officials cited the same concerns in emails in the weeks before and after Herbert moved to block the money.
Utah's move to cut off funding followed similar moves against Planned Parenthood chapters in other states.
Helene Krasnoff, senior director for litigation and law with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the Utah ruling is "a bit of an outlier," as judges in all other Planned Parenthood lawsuits this year have ruled in the organization's favor.
In other states, officials have blocked Medicaid money. Utah hasn't touched that money, though the governor and attorney general's office have not explained why.
Krasnoff said that while the legal dispute in Utah focuses on constitutional issues rather than Medicaid law, Hebert's action is as politically motived as moves by other GOP governors and will likewise harm women's health.
In Utah, the federal funding is a small portion of the local organization's $8 million budget. It also receives money through federal contracts, fees from clients, insurance and contributions.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.
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