Lawsuit seeks to rescind $250,000 Albuquerque grant to Planned Parenthood

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A lawsuit is seeking to rescind a $250,000 grant that the Albuquerque City Council awarded to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. The plantiffs claim that the funding constitutes a “donation,” which the lawsuit says is in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

“Politicians can’t use taxpayer money like their personal piggy bank,” Daniel Suhr, the managing attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, told CNA. The Liberty Justice Center is representing Care Net of Albuquerque, a pro-life pregnancy center in the city, and taxpayer Paul Gessing in the lawsuit.

In May 2022, shortly after a draft of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked, the Albuquerque City Council voted to provide a local Planned Parenthood with a $250,000 grant, which is being awarded in installments over a two-year period. Tammy Fiebelkorn, one of the city council members, said at the time that “extremists” are “poised to take away women’s rights and control of their own bodies,” which is why the council “affirmed our respect and support for women’s reproductive freedoms” with the funding.

Although it is common for cities to award grants to nonprofit organizations, the lawsuit notes that New Mexico’s Constitution includes a clause that prevents state and local governments from using those powers to make a donation. Article IX, Sec. 14 of the constitution states that governments cannot “make any donation to or in aid of any person, association, or public or private corporation” except in certain specific instances. The anti-donation clause does not apply if the government receives something of value in return for the funds.

The lawsuit argues that New Mexico court precedent holds the “nature and the circumstances” that surround a decision to direct funds to an organization are relevant to whether it ought to be classified as a donation. The lawsuit cites Fiebelkorn’s comments to argue that it is “clear this was a political statement aimed at anti-abortion groups and their potential success in the Dobbs case based on the leak, not on an identified need for medical services for indigent persons in Albuquerque.”

Suhr said there is a clear distinction between legitimate government contracts and gifts and donations. He said “taxpayers are guaranteed a value for their money” and that a contract is different than when a politician decides to “abuse taxpayer money to make a gift or donation.” In this instance, he added, the council wanted “to make a political statement about abortion.”

If the council had intended to provide funding for specific service, he said officials “could have had an open request for proposals, but they didn’t.” He said pro-life pregnancy centers like their client Care Net of Albuquerque “were never given an opportunity to compete for these funds,” because it was “never about providing services to pregnant women.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the grant is in violation of the anti-donation clause, find the agreement to be null and void, and order Planned Parenthood to return all funds that have already been received through this grant.

CNA reached out to Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico and Albuquerque City Council leadership for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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