By ANDREW DeMILLO
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal appeals court panel ruled on Wednesday that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, two years after the state ended its contract with the group over videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group.
In a 2-1 ruling, an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel vacated preliminary injunctions a federal judge had issued preventing the state from suspending any Medicaid payments for services rendered to patients from Planned Parenthood. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended the state’s Medicaid contract with the organization in 2015.
The court ruled the unnamed patients suing the state did not have the right to challenge the defunding decision. The panel did not directly take up Arkansas’ reason for terminating the contract.
“Under the Jane Does’ vision, while the provider is litigating its qualifications in the state courts, or after the provider unsuccessfully appeals a determination that it is not qualified, individual patients separately could litigate or relitigate the qualifications of the provider in federal court,” the court ruled.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker initially ordered the state to continue the payments to three patients who had sued over the decision and later expanded that order to anyone who seeks or wants to obtain services from the organization’s health centers in Arkansas.
Planned Parenthood said it’s weighing its options for challenging the appeals court’s decision. The ruling does not take effect until the court issues its mandate in about a week or two, and Planned Parenthood said it’s still serving Medicaid patients in Arkansas.
“We will do everything in our power to protect our patients’ access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other lifesaving care,” Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Extreme politicians are trying to defund and shut down Planned Parenthood — and this is not what Americans want. Every person deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy life and access care at a provider they know and trust, no matter who you are or where you live.”
The attorney general’s office did not immediately have comment on Wednesday’s ruling. The state has said Planned Parenthood had received $51,000 worth of Medicaid money in the fiscal year before Hutchinson’s decision to terminate the contract. None of the money paid for abortions. Planned Parenthood operates health centers in Fayetteville and Little Rock.
Republican lawmakers and governors around the country targeted the organization after several videos were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. The center said the videos showed that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood said the videos were heavily edited and denied seeking any payments beyond legally permitted reimbursement of costs. A Texas grand jury that looked into the videos cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue
In a dissenting opinion to Wednesday’s ruling, Judge Michael Melloy noted that several other federal courts have ruled the opposite way on defunding and said the patients have a right to challenge the end of Planned Parenthood’s contract.
The decision is the latest in a series of rights in federal court over attempts in solidly Republican Arkansas to limit abortion.
Baker last month blocked Arkansas from enforcing four new abortion restrictions, including a ban on a common second-trimester procedure. Another federal judge is weighing whether to halt another new law that would allow Arkansas to suspend or revoke an abortion clinic’s license for any violation. In a separate case, the 8th Circuit last month vacated another preliminary injunction Baker issued preventing Arkansas from enforcing new limits on how the abortion pill is administered.