Judge blocks Alabama from ending Planned Parenthood funding

AP News
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Posted: Oct 28, 2015 6:59 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Alabama to restore Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, money the state tried to cut off in the wake of undercover videos shot by abortion opponents.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an order that temporarily bars Alabama from cutting off Medicaid contracts with the group's clinics in Alabama. Planned Parenthood Southeast and a Medicaid recipient filed suit in August, days after Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced he was ending the Medicaid agreements with the two clinics.

"Today's ruling is a victory for the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for quality, compassionate affordable health care," said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. "It's outrageous that Governor Bentley is trying to take care away from women and families in our communities who need it the most."

In his 66-page opinion, Thompson said Alabama did not identify a legal reason to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and that the state's action likely violated a free-choice-of-provider provision of the federal Medicaid Act that limits a state's ability to bar family planning providers for reasons unrelated to quality of care.

A Medicaid recipient, identified only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, who received her birth control injection at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Alabama, joined the organization in suing the state.

The ruling is the latest victory for Planned Parenthood in battles over funding.

Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas and Utah have all moved to block Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood. Republican governors cited secretly recorded videos, shot by abortion opponents, which showed Planned Parenthood workers coolly discussing fetal tissue and fees for donating the tissue to researchers.

Thompson noted Alabama's termination letter to Planned Parenthood did not give a reason for the ending the provider agreement that the organization could appeal through administrative channels.

Bentley later cited the videos in statements he gave about his decision saying the organization's "deplorable practices" had been exposed. Thompson, in his opinion, said the videos did not depict, or involve, the Alabama clinics.

Planned Parenthood said the videos were heavily edited to falsely imply some clinics were selling the tissue for profit. The organization, in an effort to squelch the controversy, announced this month it would no longer accept reimbursement for the cost of providing the tissue to researchers.

The governor said he was disappointed in Thompson's decision and was mulling the next steps.

"I am disappointed, and vehemently disagree with the Court's ruling today. We are reviewing the opinion and will determine the next legal steps within the appeal period," Bentley said in a statement.

The governor credited pushback from the states for Planned Parenthood's decision to end the reimbursement program.

Lawyers for Alabama argued in court filings that the videos raised concerns by the governor that abortion methods might be altered to obtain the best quality tissue, instead of what it is best for the patient.

Thompson, in rejecting the latter argument, said that was "beside the point" because the two Alabama clinics do not participate in the fetal tissue donation program.

"The parties do not dispute that no employee or representative of Planned Parenthood Southeast is depicted in these videos and that PPSE does not participate in fetal-tissue donation, and never has," Thompson said.

Federal judges have ordered Louisiana and Utah to, at least for now, continue providing funding to Planned Parenthood amid ongoing legal fights over states' effort to cut off Medicaid dollars. A judge directed Arkansas to continue providing Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood to cover services for three patients who sued the state, but Planned Parenthood is seeking to expand the order to cover all Medicaid recipients.

Unlike some states that have fought Planned Parenthood over funding, Alabama's Medicaid program has paid little to the healthcare provider.

Alabama Medicaid Agency records show that the state has paid Planned Parenthood Southeast $5,600 over the past two years. The payments were for reimbursement for providing contraceptives for low-income women. Medicaid does not pay for abortion unless the mother's life is in danger or it is a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.