Appeals Court Rules Arkansas Can Block Money For Planned Parenthood

Aug 16, 2017

Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, announcing the lawsuit in September 2015.
Credit Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding for healthcare services conducted by Planned Parenthood. The 2-1 decision lifts preliminary injunctions issued by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker after a class-action lawsuit was filed suit over the state's 2015 decision. She had ruled Medicaid rules allowed recipients to choose among any qualified provider.

"Clearly we disagree with this," Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore told KUAR News. A decision about whether to appeal the decision to the full 8th Circuit or U.S. Supreme Court has not yet been made, she said. "We are exploring all of our options to affirm our patients rights to access healthcare. And it’s not only our belief, but every other federal court has protected Medicaid patients who rely on Planned Parenthood, including the 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th circuits."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson cancelled the state’s contract with the group two years ago after videos were released by the Centers for Medical Progress, a group of abortion rights opponents, suggesting Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue. The secretly recorded videos were made at clinics elsewhere in the country.

In a statement released Wednesday, Hutchinson said:

In 2015, the state terminated its Medicaid provider agreement with Planned Parenthood because there was evidence that Planned Parenthood and its affiliates were acting in an unethical manner and engaging in what appeared to be wrongful conduct. I am pleased with the ruling of the 8th Circuit today reversing Judge Baker on her injunction that blocked the state from proceeding. The decision allows the state to proceed with the termination of Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider. This is a substantial legal victory for the right of the state to determine whether Medicaid providers are acting in accordance with best practices and affirms the prerogative of the state to make reasoned judgments on the Medicaid program.

But Lee-Gilmore says it has been clearly established that the videos prompting the governor’s actions, as well as other similar reactions in other states, were misrepresentions. “They were highly edited, discredited videos which then led to criminal charges,” she said.

In March prosecutors in California filed felony charges against two abortion rights opponents who secretly recording the videos for violating the state’s privacy laws.

"Today as we’re reading the opinion of the 8th Circuit it is actually quite silly that we’re still talking about those highly edited, deceptive videos. There was no fact, no truth to those allegations," Lee-Gilmore said.

File photo of Family Council Executive Director Jerry Cox speaking at the state Capitol in June 2016.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

Jerry Cox, executive director of the Arkansas conservative group Family Council, says the issue decided by the appellate panel goes beyond the videos.

"The videos aside, the question is should the state of Arkansas do business with an organization that aborts babies when they don’t need to? There are plenty of other healthcare services out there, to just two Planned Parenthood clinics," Cox said. "One can make an argument that it simply was not necessary to do business with them."

The organization also provides a broad range of services, including birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings to thousands of people in the state.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office defended the state’s 2015 action, said in a statement:

The 8th Circuit rightfully agreed with me in my defense of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s decision to terminate the contract with Planned Parenthood after videos surfaced allegedly showing Planned Parenthood could be involved in selling aborted fetal body parts for profit. The Court found that Planned Parenthood and the three patients it recruited could not contest in federal court Arkansas’s determination that a medical provider has engaged in misconduct that merits disqualification from the Medicaid program. All patients should have access to ethical, quality and responsible health care, and should never be beholden to a company that is only seeking to protect its profits.

The spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood emphasized that it’s important for patients receiving Medicaid-funded healthcare services through the organization to know those services will not be immediately interrupted by Wednesday’s court ruling.