Supreme Court tosses ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood in Medicaid funding case

A sign hangs above a Planned Parenthood clinic on May 18, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois.
A sign hangs above a Planned Parenthood clinic on May 18, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court has vacated a lower court decision that stopped South Carolina from terminating a Medicaid provider agreement with Planned Parenthood due to the organization providing abortion services.

In an orders list released Tuesday morning, the nation's high court granted a writ of certiorari in the case of Kerr, Dir. SC Dept. of Health v. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, et al., vacating an earlier judgment and remanding the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court ordered the 4th Circuit to consider the case in light of Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion Cty. v. Talevski, a 2022 decision in which the high court ruled 7-2 that provisions in the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act created enforceable rights for nursing home residents. 

In 2018, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order barring any entity that operated abortion clinics from being part of the Medicaid program, arguing that allowing them in the program may indirectly fund abortion.

The 2018 order expanded a 2017 executive order from McMaster, who said in a statement at the time that taxpayer money "must not directly or indirectly subsidize abortion providers like Planned Parenthood."

"There are a variety of agencies, clinics, and medical entities in South Carolina that receive taxpayer funding to offer important women's health and family planning services without performing abortions," said McMaster.

Planned Parenthood and a woman named Julie Edwards, who relied on Medicaid to pay for her reproductive health services, sued the state shortly after the 2018 executive order was issued.

The plaintiffs argued that the executive order violated federal law, as Congress amended Medicaid in the 1960s to allow individuals the freedom to choose their providers. 

Arguing the case on behalf of South Carolina, the legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom argues that the 1965 amendment did not define which providers are qualified and allows states broad authority to make that determination.

A district court granted a preliminary injunction on behalf of Planned Parenthood and Edwards, arguing that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their arguments. A permanent injunction was issued in December 2020. 

In March 2022, a three-judge panel for the 4th Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, with Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III authoring the panel opinion.

"South Carolina terminated Planned Parenthood's agreement notwithstanding the fact that all parties agree that Planned Parenthood is perfectly competent to provide the non-abortive healthcare the individual plaintiff sought and requested," wrote Wilkinson, a Reagan appointee. 

"To allow the State to disqualify Planned Parenthood would nullify Congress's manifest intent to provide our less fortunate citizens the opportunity to select a medical provider of their choice, an opportunity that the most fortunate routinely enjoy." 

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