SALT LAKE CITY — Four Democratic lawmakers called on Gov. Gary Herbert Thursday to reverse his directive to block federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood of Utah, but the governor stood by his decision.
He questioned the impact of a Texas grand jury's indictment of leaders of the group responsible for covertly recorded videos purportedly depicting national Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue for scientific research.
"That does not mean the information on tape was necessarily wrong," the governor said. "I'm looking for the Congress and their investigations to really be the ultimate decision-maker."
House Minority Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said Herbert reacted to "heavily edited, highly political" videos and needs to reinstate Planned Parenthood of Utah's contracts with the Utah Department of Health.
"Texas has now cleared the organization and charged the video creators. This is a clear message that the contracts and services Planned Parenthood provides are legal and supportive to men and women in our communities across the state," she said.
Democratic Reps. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek; Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay; and Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City; joined Chavez-Houck in the request.
The governor said his decision, being challenged in federal court, was not based on "political whim," but his belief that the state "should not have to be associated with somebody or some organization that is violating the law."
He said his understanding is that indictments against leaders of the Center for Medical Progress have to do with "how they collected the evidence, not the evidence itself," the controversial videos.
"I don't feel duped by the videos. Again, the videos are pretty self-explanatory and they're all available for anyone to watch," the governor said. "I know they've been edited but they say what they say."
Last August, Herbert directed the state health department to withhold about $230,000 in federal money originally intended for Planned Parenthood of Utah, saying the national organization had "colored outside the lines."
The money goes to two sex education programs, an STD testing program and an STD tracking database.
Utah Planned Parenthood sued the governor over the order.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups last month rejected Planned Parenthood's arguments for a preliminary injunction and canceled the temporary restraining order it had against the state. Waddoups said in his decision that the merits of state contracts given to private entities should be monitored by elected leaders and not federal courts.
Planned Parenthood appealed, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver granted an emergency stay of the governor's directive a day before the funding was to expire Dec. 31.
In a court filing this week, Utah Planned Parenthood argues that Waddoups abused his discretion in denying its motion for a preliminary injunction.
"The district court’s conclusion that Gov. Herbert’s ability to make decisions about what he believes is in the best interest of the state outweighs the harm to the public is wrong," according to court papers. "It is never in the public’s best interest to allow a public official to make unbridled decisions that violate a citizen’s constitutional rights."
The appeals court will hear arguments in March on the organization's request for an injunction pending a resolution of the case on its merits.
Herbert spokesman Jon Cox said last month that the governor is confident that the appeals court would side with him.