Appeals court rules that Texas, Louisiana can cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood

Women stand in front of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Texas.
Women stand in front of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Texas. | (Photo: Facebook/Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast)

In a victory for the pro-life movement, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld two states’ bans on Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood Monday.

The Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, Louisiana, ruled en banc Monday that Texas and Louisiana can cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, concluding that federal law “does not give Medicaid patients the right to challenge a State’s determination that a particular Medicaid provider is unqualified.”

Opponents of Texas and Louisiana’s Medicaid bans argued that a “freedom-of-choice provision” in federal law prevents states from restricting which medical providers a Medicaid recipient can use.

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The opinion of the Fifth Circuit frequently cited a ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding an Ohio law stripping Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics of public funding. Voices on both sides of the abortion debate weighed in on Monday’s decision, which reverses earlier court rulings that blocked the states from enforcing the Medicaid bans.

“The Fifth Circuit correctly rejected Planned Parenthood’s efforts to prevent Texas from excluding them from the state’s Medicaid program,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a supporter of his state’s Planned Parenthood Medicaid ban. “Undercover video plainly showed Planned Parenthood admitting to morally bankrupt and unlawful conduct, including violations of federal law by manipulating the timing and methods of abortions to obtain fetal tissue for their own research.”  

“Planned Parenthood is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, and it should not receive public funding through the Medicaid program,” he added.

Following the court ruling, Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, warned that “forcing Planned Parenthood out of the Texas Medicaid program would have a devastating impact on Texans,” specifically “people of color, women, and people with low incomes.” Johnson vowed to “fight back against any politician who doesn’t prioritize expanding accessible, affordable quality health care.”

The Fifth Circuit’s decision comes just days after the Sixth Circuit ruled that Tennessee can enforce a ban on abortions of babies based on their sex or a diagnosis with Down syndrome while litigation continues.

Texas’ efforts to deny Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood date back to 2015, when the pro-life group Center for Medical Progress released undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale and harvest of aborted babies’ body parts. In October of that year, the Office of the Inspector General at Texas Health and Human Services informed Planned Parenthood that they would no longer receive Medicaid compensation.

More than a year later, the state had yet to officially deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood but a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state’s attempt to cut Medicaid funding to the abortion provider, alleging that state health officials “likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause.”

In the summer of 2015, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal announced that the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals was ending its Medicaid Provider Agreement with Planned Parenthood, citing the undercover videos published by Center for Medical Progress.

A legal challenge from Planned Parenthood soon followed and the litigation ended up reaching the Supreme Court, which rejected Louisiana’s appeal of a lower court decision preventing the state from denying Medicaid funds to the abortion provider.

As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent in the court’s decision not to hear the case of Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast, the question of “whether Medicaid recipients have a private right of action to challenge a state’s determination of ‘qualified’ Medicaid providers” remains unresolved.

Thomas explained that at the time, “five circuits have held that Medicaid recipients have such a right, and one Circuit has held that they do not. The last three Circuits to consider the question have themselves been divided.”

The Supreme Court’s reluctance to take on cases related to the defunding of Planned Parenthood was on display last month, when it rejected an appeal from South Carolina lawmakers seeking to end taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood clinics through Medicaid reimbursements.

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