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Federal judge expands order blocking Ark. from targeting Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funds

A federal judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction that bars Arkansas from cutting Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood for any program beneficiary in the state, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (DeMillo, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/29).

Background

In September 2015, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) ordered the state Department of Human Services to end its Medicaid provider contract with Planned Parenthood within 30 days. In the preceding fiscal year, Planned Parenthood clinics in the state received more than $51,000 in Medicaid reimbursements for gynecological services and family planning.

Hutchinson's decision followed an antiabortion group's release of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood.

Shortly after Hutchinson announced the move, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH) and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit over his decision. In response, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction ordering that Arkansas must continue Medicaid payments for three women who challenged Hutchinson's decision to block the funds. Hutchinson later that day said the state would end Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood beyond the three women protected by Baker's order.

In October 2015, Planned Parenthood asked Baker to grant class-action status to the lawsuit. According to the organization, the lawsuit also should include Medicaid beneficiaries who currently use and who will use Planned Parenthood services.

Baker granted the lawsuit class-action status in January, but she did not issue a ruling on whether to expand the decision to the entire class at that time. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state's request to appeal the certification of the class.

In September, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit heard oral arguments over Baker's decision regarding the three beneficiaries.

Several other states that also have tried to end funding for abortion providers are facing similar legal challenges. Separately, the Obama administration earlier this year issued a nationwide notice cautioning that state efforts to cut abortion providers out of Medicaid could violate federal law (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/23).

Latest developments

On Thursday, Baker expanded her original ruling to the entire class.

She said if she did not expand the decision, future Planned Parenthood patients covered through Medicaid would suffer irreparable harm. "Should the court fail to issue injunctive relief, members of the patient class will be denied their choice of provider for family planning services," she wrote.

PPH CEO Suzanna de Baca praised the decision. "This is a win for the Arkansans who rely on Planned Parenthood of the Heartland for birth control, cancer screenings, and other essential health care," she said, adding, "Every person deserves access to quality, affordable health care from the provider they know and trust, and today, the court recognized that" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/29).