Health Law

Louisiana can't withhold Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood, 5th Circuit rules

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The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s injunction against Louisiana’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. A three-judge appellate panel said the health services provider likely would prevail at trial because plaintiffs would be denied both access to and choice of a medical provider, the Associated Press reported.

The bid to withhold Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood was launched under then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and continued under the new governor, John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat. The effort came on the heels of the release of controversial videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the provision of fetal tissue for research purposes.

Planned Parenthood told the AP that defunding efforts were undertaken in 24 states.

The Planned Parenthood clinics offer physical exams, contraception, screenings for breast and cervical cancers, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and other services; these have been targeted in the defunding efforts. Planned Parenthood facilities also provide abortions, but do not uses federal funding for those services. No federal funds are permitted for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.

“Because the individual plaintiffs would otherwise be denied both access to a much needed medical provider and the legal right to the qualified provider of their choice, we agree that they will almost certainly suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction,” Judge Jacques Wiener wrote (PDF), joined by Judges Priscilla Owens and Edward Prado.

In July, the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s order to defund Planned Parenthood violated Planned Parenthood’s First Amendment right to free speech and to provide non-federally funded abortions.

Herbert, a Republican, sought to deny funding for Planned Parenthood’s services for sexually transmitted diseases and sex education.

The court’s 2-1 decision concluded, in an opinion by Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, that a reasonable finder of fact likely would find that Herbert, a politician who opposes abortion, saw the videos as “an opportunity to take public action” against Planned Parenthood and “deprive it of pass-through federal funding, and potentially weaken the organization and hamper its ability to provide and advocate for abortion services.”

Similar challenges are underway in other courts around the country. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Servicesproposed a rule (PDF) to end such efforts. The proposal would require state governments to provide so-called “Title X” funds without using criteria “unrelated to their ability to provide Title X services effectively.”

“This victory is critically important for thousands of Louisianans across our state—people who deserve to have their health come before political agendas,” said Raegan Carter, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in a news release Wednesday.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said through a spokesman that his office is reviewing the ruling.

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