Federal Judge Blocks Alabama From Defunding Planned Parenthood

If Republicans want to strip Planned Parenthood of state Medicaid funding, they'll have to change federal law first.


American Life League/Flickr

Alabama must restore its contract with Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider, at least for now, ruled a federal court Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson pointed out that because Alabama offered no reason whatsoever for the sudden defunding, the state was likely in violation of federal Medicaid law, which requires letting patients see any provider that accepts Medicaid unless the state establishes that they're not qualified. 

Providers, of course, are not generally obligated to take Medicaid patients, and many don't because of low reimbursement rates. But under federal law, Medicaid patients have "freedom of choice" among qualified Medicaid providers.

Gov. Robert Bentley announced in August that he would end Alabama's agreement with the state's two Planned Parenthood clinics. Soon after, Planned Parenthood Southeast filed a lawsuit.

Bentley's letter to Planned Parenthood terminating its provider agreement listed no reason, though in public statements he identified a string of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) concerning fetal tissue donation programs at some Planned Parenthood clinics. "I respect human life and do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not," said Bentley. But neither of Alabama's Planned Parenthood clinics participate in fetal tissue programs, Judge Thompson noted in his decision.

Alabama is one of several states trying to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funding. Earlier this month, Texas health officials informed the state's Planned Parenthood clinics that they were "liable, directly or by affiliation, for a series of serious Medicaid program violations" as highlighted in the CMP videos.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens responded that "it is completely outrageous that Texas officials are using these thoroughly discredited, fraudulent videos to cut women off from preventive health care," and vowed that Planned Parenthood would "fight back against this outrageous, malicious, political attack in Texas with everything we've got."

Louisiana also attempted to end its Medicaid relationship with Planned Parenthood, but a federal judge ruled October 19 that it must provide funding for at least 14 more days.

"In 2011, when Planned Parenthood was also in the headlines, Indiana passed a law barring Medicaid funding to any entity that also performed abortions, even if those abortions were performed with nonpublic funds," as NPR pointed out in August. A federal appeals court ultimately blocked it. "Although Indiana has broad authority to exclude unqualified providers from its Medicaid program, the state does not have plenary authority to exclude a class of providers for any reason—more particularly for a reason unrelated to provider qualifications," wrote Appeals Court Judge Diane Sykes in the majority opinion.

It's unlikely the Alabama or Louisiana efforts will succeed in efforts to cut ties with Planed Parenthood at present. If Republicans want to strip Planned Parenthood of state Medicaid funding, Congress will have to change federal Medicaid law first.