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Planned Parenthood seeks summary judgment against Miss. law targeting abortion providers, challenge Ariz. law

September 22, 2016 — Planned Parenthood on Monday asked a federal court to issue a summary judgment against a Mississippi law (SB 2238) that bars the state from allocating Medicaid funds to abortion providers, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Wagster Pettus, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/21).

Background

SB 2238 prohibits the state Division of Medicaid from allocating funds to any entity that provides abortion care in instances other than rape, incest or life endangerment. The legislation also bars the allocation of Medicaid funding to any entity that affiliates with such abortion providers or maintains facilities where such care is offered.

The measure effectively ended Medicaid funding for the state's sole Planned Parenthood clinic, and also Jackson Women's Health Organization, the state's only abortion clinic. Mississippi already prohibits the use of public dollars to fund most abortion care.

The law, which took effect July 1, followed a warning from the Obama administration that efforts to cut abortion providers out of Medicaid could violate federal law.

Lawsuit details

In June, Georgia-based Planned Parenthood Southeast (PPS), which operates a clinic in Mississippi, and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR), filed a legal challenge against the law in federal court.

In the lawsuit, PPS and PPGMR noted that the Planned Parenthood clinic in Mississippi does not offer abortion care. However, the organizations said other Planned Parenthood affiliates in Alabama and Georgia do offer such services, as does a clinic in Memphis, which recently started accepting Mississippi Medicaid payments.

The organizations argued that the state law limits health care providers' ability to offer abortion care -- a constitutionally protected health care service. Moreover, PPS and PPGMR cited a federal law that allows Medicaid beneficiaries to access family planning services from any qualified provider (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/16).

According to Planned Parenthood, the lawsuit marks the 17th challenge filed by the organization since July 2015 against states seeking to prohibit the allocation of federal funding to abortion providers.

Latest developments

In the latest filing, Planned Parenthood noted that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling upholding an injunction against a similar funding ban in Louisiana (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/21). In that decision, the 5th Circuit ruled that because the plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood 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" (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/16).

Melissa Cohen, an attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote in the filing that as the 5th Circuit also hears appeals from lawsuits in Mississippi, its decision in the Louisiana lawsuit "controls this court's decision on the merits of this case" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/21).

ACLU, Planned Parenthood challenge Ariz. law targeting funding for abortion providers

In related news, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in July filed a lawsuit against an Arizona law (HB 2599) that targets Medicaid funding for abortion providers, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Christie, AP/Sacramento Bee, 7/14).

Law details

The law, sponsored by state Rep. Justin Olson (R), disqualifies any provider that violates one of several laws from participating in the state's Medicaid program. The measure specifically notes that it will disqualify any provider that does not "segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions." The law's language could necessitate separating out public funding allocated for "everything from doctors to lighting."

State and federal law already bar the use of public funds for most abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/18).

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona (PPA), has said the organization does not use public funds or Medicaid family planning funding to cover abortion care when such coverage is prohibited under federal law. While the law does not specifically name Planned Parenthood, Howard said it "is indeed intended to prevent Planned Parenthood [from] continuing to provide preventative services to low-income women in the state" (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/7).

The law is scheduled to take effect Aug. 6.

Lawsuit details

ACLU filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Arizona (Pitzl, Arizona Republic, 7/14). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of PPA and Desert Star Family Planning (Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).

In the lawsuit, the abortion providers contend that the law violates their right to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment by targeting Planned Parenthood and imposing unclear guidance (Arizona Republic, 7/14). For example, the plaintiffs said the law does not specify what it means to "segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions, including the use of taxpayer dollars for any overhead expenses attributable to abortions" (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).

The providers also contend that the law violates patients' right to select a Medicaid provider of their choice (Arizona Republic, 7/14).

According to the plaintiffs, the law permits the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to temporarily or permanently end clinics' Medicaid participation with only 24 hours' notice. The lawsuit stated, "Unless enjoined, this impermissible requirement threatens to exclude the provider plaintiffs from the Medicaid program, thereby restricting their ability to provide -- and their patients' ... ability to access -- vital women's health services."

ACLU attorney Jennifer Lee said she is asking U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver to stop the law from taking effect Aug. 6. No hearing has yet been scheduled (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).

Comments

Jodi Liggett, vice president of communications for PPA, said the law is the latest effort to shutter Planned Parenthood. "They are targeting us because we are an abortion provider," she said, noting that the state has not imposed similar requirements on any other entity receiving Medicaid funds (Arizona Republic, 7/14).

Separately, Alessandra Soler, executive director of ACLU of Arizona, said, "There is an eerie déjà vu to this law ... The state is trying again, this time with a more complicated version of the previous law, to use taxpayer dollars to play politics with medicine" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 7/14).

Lee compared the HB 2599 with an overturned state law (HB 2800) that similarly targeted Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding. "This law has the same effect [as HB 2800] in that it imposes a requirement that will cause abortion providers to be excluded from the Medicaid program at the discretion of AHCCCS," she said, adding, "The intent of the law is the same" (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 7/15).