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US Supreme Court lets stand indirect funding of abortion providers

The U.S. Supreme Court will not review a court ruling striking down a state law that threatened to put abortion providers out of business by banning all money to clinics that perform abortions, even if it is earmarked for non-abortion services.

The court’s decision lets stand the federal appeals court ruling in Planned Parenthood of Indiana v. Commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, which overturned a restrictive Indiana law passed in 2011 that prohibits state agencies from providing federal or state funds to “any entity that performs abortions or maintains or operates a facility where abortions are performed.”

Planned Parenthood, one of its doctors and two patients sued to stop the law from taking effect, arguing that it was unconstitutional on several grounds.

After the law passed, Planned Parenthood lost two grants totaling $150,000 for services related to sexually transmitted diseases and was forced to lay off dozens of workers and close several clinics.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted the law, finding that it likely violated a provision of the Medicaid Act that gives patients a free choice of any qualified provider.

Indiana argued that the act gives states the authority to exclude providers for any reason, but the court said that the state’s reasons for excluding abortion providers were unrelated to the providers’ qualifications.

“If the states are free to set any qualifications they want — no matter how unrelated to the provider’s fitness to treat Medicaid patients — then the free-choice-of-provider requirement could be easily undermined by simply labeling any exclusionary rule as a ‘qualification.’ This would open a significant loophole for restricting patient choice, contradicting the broad access to medical care that [the free-choice-of-provider law] is meant to preserve,” the court said.

However, the court rejected Planned Parenthood’s argument that the law put an unconstitutional condition on state funding by forcing it to choose between providing abortions and receiving public money.

“As long as the difference in treatment does not unduly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, the government is free to treat abortion providers differently,” the court said.

Under the Hyde Amendment, federal money is already banned from directly paying for abortion services. About a dozen states have moved to restrict indirect funding under laws similar to Indiana’s. Those states, including Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, aim to further defund abortion providers by cutting off their ability to use money under the joint federal-state Medicaid program for non-abortion services.


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