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Federal judge blocks Miss. law that cut abortion providers from state Medicaid program

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked a Mississippi law (SB 2238) that barred the state from allocating Medicaid funding to abortion providers, Reuters reports (Skinner, Reuters, 10/21).

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 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.

In September, Planned Parenthood filed a motion for summary judgment after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling upholding an injunction against a similar funding ban (HB 606) in Louisiana (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/22). Mississippi also falls under the 5th Circuit's jurisdiction (AP/CBS News, 10/20).

Ruling details

U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan issued a permanent injunction against the Mississippi law on Thursday.

In his order, Jordan wrote that "essentially every court to consider similar laws has found that they violate ... the so-called 'Free-Choice-of-Provider Provision'" (Dreher, Jackson Free Press, 10/20). Jordan also cited the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Louisiana law (AP/CBS News, 10/20).

Planned Parenthood praises ruling

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, lauded the decision. "Yet another court has said it is unacceptable for politicians to dictate where women can go for their health care. This case is about the people who rely on us for basic care every day," Richards said, adding, "We will not stand for these attacks on our patient[s'] right to health care, and Planned Parenthood will fight for our patients at every turn" (Jackson Free Press, 10/20).

According to Planned Parenthood, the lawsuit marks the organization's 17th legal challenge since July 2015 against states targeting funding for abortion providers (AP/CBS News, 10/20).