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Supreme Court Will Not Hear Planned Parenthood Defunding Appeal

Two conservative justices — Roberts and Kavanaugh — side with liberal colleagues

Supporters and opponents of abortion rights demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Supporters and opponents of abortion rights demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by two states that want to cut Medicaid funds from providers like Planned Parenthood, keeping in place lower court opinions that anti-abortion advocates oppose.

The states, Kansas and Louisiana, argued that Medicaid does not allow individual patients to sue if state officials refuse to cover a provider’s non-abortion services because the provider sometimes separately performs abortions.

Current law under the Hyde amendment already prevents federal funding from covering abortions with exceptions for rape, incest, and protecting the life of the woman. At issue was whether Medicaid patients could sue if states blocked coverage of a provider’s services like cancer screenings and contraception.

The move in Andersen v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri is a win for abortion-rights advocates, who celebrated the court’s decision.

Two conservatives, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, sided with the more liberal justices in rejecting the appeal. That surprised some conservative groups who had hoped that the addition of Kavanaugh to the court would open the possibility to further restricting abortion.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented, arguing that the court should have taken up the case.

“So what explains the Court’s refusal to do its job here?” Thomas said in his dissent. “I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’ That makes the Court’s decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion.”

Planned Parenthood immediately applauded the court’s decision.

“We are pleased that lower court rulings protecting patients remain in place. Every person has a fundamental right to health care, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much they earn,” Leana Wen, Planned Parenthood’s president, said in a statement. “We won’t stop fighting for every patient who relies on Planned Parenthood for life-saving, life-changing care.”

Leaders from a number of anti-abortion groups recently met with White House officials over their priorities for 2019 and beyond. Defunding Planned Parenthood still remains a top priority, according to Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, who attended the meeting.

The move to defund Planned Parenthood in Kansas and Louisiana was in part inspired by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress. In 2015, the group released a series of sting videos that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood workers discussing plans to sell fetal tissues for a profit, which would violate federal law. Fetal tissue is used for research purposes, but researchers that rely on it are supposed to only pay for processing and shipping costs. The Department of Health and Human Services is currently weighing whether to stop funding fetal tissue research.

The videos prompted a number of Republican-led congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood, none of which proved that the women’s health organization was engaging in illegal activity. Abortion rights groups maintain that the Daleiden videos were edited to be misleading, and Planned Parenthood later sued his group.

Kentucky and Louisiana then moved to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds, which led to subsequent lawsuits over the legality of that action.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told Kansas last year that “states may not terminate providers from their Medicaid program for any reason they see fit, especially when that reason is unrelated to the provider’s competence and the quality of the health care it provides.”

Consumer advocates from both states note that patients rely on the health care provider for non-abortive services.

For example, Louisiana has two Planned Parenthood clinics, one in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans.

In Baton Rouge, 70 percent of women seeking contraceptives at publicly-funded clinics in 2015 sought them from Planned Parenthood, while in New Orleans, 40 percent of similar women sought birth control at Planned Parenthood, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a left-leaning reproductive health care research organization.

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