Directing the Flow of Funds

Colorado Supreme Court rules on meaning of ‘indirect’ use of state funds to abortion providers

The Colorado Supreme Court last week gave the final word in a case involving Planned Parenthood, which questioned whether the state “indirectly” funded abortion services.

In Norton v. Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, the court affirmed the dismissal by two lower courts of a claim that the state and Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood violated Section 50 of the Colorado Constitution, which prohibits the use of state funds for abortions. The court deemed the claim insufficient for relief and instead ruled that a claim under Section 50 has to allege the state directly or indirectly paid a person or entity for the purpose of compensation for performing an abortion, and that the abortion was performed.

In the underlying case, Jane Norton sued Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood and several Colorado officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, for violating Section 50. The claim alleged the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indirectly subsidized the abortion operations of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Services Corp. by contracting with its affiliate Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood to provide various services, because RMPP provided funds to subsidize the rent of Services Corp. In doing so, according to the claim, CDPHE violated Section 50 because giving state funds to RMPP allowed the organization to charge below-market rent to Services Corp.

However, Norton did not allege the state used public funds to pay either RMPP or Services Corp. for actually performing abortions.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the January 29, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.