Another attempt to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers has been struck down — this time in Mississippi, where a federal judge ruled against a state law that prevents health clinics that offer abortion services from getting Medicaid funding.
Following similar rulings across the country in recent months, U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan III on Thursday sided with two Planned Parenthood–affiliated clinics in a suit they filed against the Mississippi law. The legislation, signed earlier this year by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, had blocked the use of Medicaid funds for patient services at clinics that provide abortions.
The judge cited several recent court decisions against laws blocking Medicaid funding from these types of facilities, saying, “Essentially every court to consider similar laws has found that they violate … the so-called ‘free choice of provider’ provision.”
That provision mandates that patients enrolled in Medicaid — the federal low-income, public insurance plan — have the right to obtain services from any institution qualified to offer the needed services. Planned Parenthood asserted in its lawsuit, which was filed in June just before the law went into effect, that the new policy violated that right.
“Yet another court has said it is unacceptable for politicians to dictate where women can go for their health care,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement in response to the Mississippi ruling.
Over the past 15 months, Planned Parenthood has filed 17 lawsuits against state laws aimed at stripping its affiliates of public funding. The organization provides a range of women’s health services, from prescribing birth control to cancer screenings, at its more than 700 facilities serving more than 4.6 million men and women in the U.S. each year. Planned Parenthood says abortions account for just 3 percent of the services it provides.
States including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin have passed Medicaid-focused defunding laws, and more than a dozen other states have sought other defunding efforts.
The recent trend in states targeting the organization’s funding, particularly through the scope of Medicaid, took off in July 2015 when a series of undercover videos purported to show Planned Parenthood staff selling fetal tissue. Subsequent investigations have failed to find conclusive evidence supporting this claims, but politicians capitalized on the public outcry to push through legislation.
A law known as the Hyde Amendment blocks federal money from being spent on abortion care, but clinics can still receive public funding or Medicaid payments for their other services.
In April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent out a letter to state Medicaid agencies warning that these actions were against the law.
“Providing the full range of women’s health services neither disqualifies a provider from participating in the Medicaid program, nor is the provision of such services inconsistent with the best interests of the beneficiary and shall not be grounds for a state’s action against a provider,” director Vikki Wachino wrote in the letter.
Just three months later, Mississippi ignored the guidance and moved forward with its law. Since July, federal judges have blocked defunding laws in several states, including Louisiana, Ohio, and Arkansas.