Federal courts block efforts in La., Utah targeting funding for abortion providers

September 16, 2016 — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that blocks Louisiana from cutting Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC), the AP/Charlottesville Daily Progress reports (McGill, AP/Charlottesville Daily Progress, 9/14).


Last summer, former Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) administration ordered the state to strip Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana of Medicaid funding following the release of misleading videos targeting the organization's fetal tissue donation program. Multiple state investigations have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.

In October 2015, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles issued a preliminary injunction that blocked Louisiana's defunding effort (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/2/15). In the opinion, John deGravelles ordered the state to continue funding cancer screenings, gynecology exams and other health services at Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. According to the AP/Daily Progress, the injunction remains in place pending a trial on the merits of the case (AP/Charlottesville Daily Progress, 9/14).

Separately, earlier this year, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed into law a bill (HB 606) that prevents abortion providers from receiving public funding. Existing state law already prohibits the use of public funding for most abortion care. The bill would end abortion providers' funding for other services they offer, such as cancer screenings, contraception and wellness exams (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/3).

Several other states that also have tried to end funding for abortion providers are facing similar legal challenges. Separately, the Obama administration earlier this year issued a nationwide notice cautioning that state efforts to cut abortion providers out of Medicaid could violate federal law (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/28).

Latest ruling

In the ruling issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld DeGravelles' decision temporarily blocking the state's defunding effort. The judges ruled that because the plaintiffs -- including three PPGC patients -- "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" (AP/Charlottesville Daily Progress, 9/14).

Citing the federal Medicaid statute, the judges explained that recipients have the right to select from a "range of qualified providers, without government interference" and rejected the state's argument that PPGC should not be considered a qualified provider. Specifically, the judges said the state failed to support its claims that PPGC had engaged in fraud or misrepresentation. According to the panel, Louisiana "has simply pasted the labels of 'fraud' and 'misrepresentations' on PPGC's conduct, and then insisted that these labels should insulate its termination actions from … challenges" (Knight, Rewire, 9/15).


A spokesperson for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) said the state was reviewing the ruling (AP/Charlottesville Daily Progress, 9/14).

Melaney Linton, president and CEO at PPGC, said, "Today's ruling affirms that Louisianans can continue to rely on Planned Parenthood, their trusted health care provider." She noted, "For too long, politicians have tried to restrict Louisianans' access to the care they need and deserve" (Rewire, 9/15).

Raegan Carter, director of public affairs for PPGC, added, "This victory is critically important for thousands of Louisianans across our state -- people who deserve to have their health come before political agendas." She added, "People of color in our community already face too many systemic barriers to care -- and blocking care at Planned Parenthood would make it even worse" (AP/Charlottesville Daily Progress, 9/14).

Federal judge issues order halting Utah's effort to terminate Planned Parenthood funding

In related news, federal judge earlier this month issued a preliminary injunction that prevents Utah from cutting funding from the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) for the reasons Utah's officials gave for the termination of funding, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

The order will remain in effect until the lawsuit over Utah's effort to cut the organization's funding concludes (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/8). According to Deseret News, the state's contracts with Planned Parenthood expire in September, but state officials said they would renew them on a short-term basis until the lawsuit is resolved (Romboy, Deseret News, 9/7).


Following last year's release of manipulated videos targeting Planned Parenthood, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) ordered the state Department of Health to stop distributing federal funding to PPAU for sexuality education and testing for sexually transmitted infections. In response, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against Herbert, arguing that the governor's orders violate Planned Parenthood's constitutional rights to due process and free speech.

In September 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order on Herbert's decision through Oct. 15, 2015. However, in December 2015, Waddoups reversed his prior decision and ruled that Utah could end $275,000 in federal funding to Planned Parenthood while the organization continues its lawsuit.

Later that month, Planned Parenthood asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to review Waddoups' ruling. The appeals court issued an emergency hold barring Herbert from blocking the funding. A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit heard arguments in the case in March.

In July, the appeals court panel in a 2-1 vote ruled that the state's effort to defund PPAU could have violated the organization's free speech rights and its right to establish clinics for women seeking abortion care. The decision required Waddoups to order a preliminary injunction blocking the state's defunding effort while PPAU seeks a permanent injunction (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/13).

Waddoups recused himself from the lawsuit. The court reassigned the case to U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.

Order details

In the order issued Sunday, Benson stated that Utah officials may not cut PPUA's funding on "impermissible constitutional grounds." Such grounds include the organization's advocacy for abortion rights or provision of abortion care; association with other groups that advocate for abortion rights; and affiliation with the national Planned Parenthood organization.

While Benson's order does not mandate that the state continue, renew or issue contracts with Planned Parenthood, it does require that the state provide the organization with a legitimate reason for ending or declining to renew or issue a contract 30 days before doing so (Deseret News, 9/7).