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Federal judge hears arguments in challenge to Kan. effort to defund Planned Parenthood

A federal judge on Tuesday heard arguments in a case challenging Kansas' decision to cut Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood, the AP/Washington Post reports (Suhr, AP/Washington Post, 6/7).

U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson on Tuesday did not rule on Planned Parenthood's request to halt the termination. However, she indicated she would rule before July 7, when the state is scheduled to end Medicaid funding for the organization. Robinson also expressed disappointment that the state did not agree to an earlier effort to postpone the funding termination so as to facilitate a timely trial (Shorman, Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/7).

Background

There are two Planned Parenthood facilities in Kansas, one of which provides abortion care. According to Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Kansas and Mid-Missouri (PPKM), the clinics receive about $61,000 in Medicaid funding annually for providing cancer screenings, contraception services and health exams. PPKM provides care for about 450 to 500 Kansas Medicaid beneficiaries, according to the lawsuit.

Under a state budget provision approved annually since 2011, Planned Parenthood already is prohibited from receiving federal family planning funding through the Kansas health department.

Last year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) asked the state medical board to investigate whether abortion providers in Kansas were selling fetal tissue. The request followed the release last summer of a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program.

PPKM does not have a fetal tissue donation program. In January, the State Board of Healing Arts announced it would not take action against PPKM's clinic in Overland, Kansas, after the board investigated and found no evidence that the organization engaged in improper fetal tissue donation.

Also in January, Brownback ordered the state health secretary to block Planned Parenthood from receiving funding through Medicaid and urged state lawmakers to pass legislation that would make such a policy law.

Kansas defunds Planned Parenthood

In a letter sent on March 10, Kansas officials informed Planned Parenthood that per Brownback's order, the organization's Medicaid provider agreement would be terminated. The letter alleged several reasons for the contract termination, including failure to comply with provider agreements and state law and regulations, as well as unprofessional behavior and "other good cause."

Planned Parenthood's request to overturn the decision was rejected at an administrative hearing earlier this year (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/5). Attorneys for Kansas said state officials might postpone the termination from July 7 to mid-September so Planned Parenthood could pursue an administrative appeal (AP/Washington Post, 6/7).

Lawsuit details

Planned Parenthood in May filed a federal lawsuit over Kansas' decision to terminate the organization's Medicaid provider agreement. In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood contended that Kansas' decision to defund the organization violates federal law as well as the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit states, "This action challenges the unlawful, unwarranted and politically motivated decision."

The lawsuit followed a letter that CMS in April sent to Medicaid agencies in every state warning them against terminating Medicaid contracts with abortion providers. Federal judges have blocked several state efforts to terminate abortion providers' Medicaid funding (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/5).

Planned Parenthood has asked the federal court to block the termination action from taking effect while the lawsuit continues.

Planned Parenthood's argument

During Tuesday's hearing, Planned Parenthood contended that the organization's patients will face irreparable harm if the court does not issue a preliminary injunction preventing the termination from taking effect while the lawsuit continues (Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/7).

Further, Diana Salgado, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said the termination violates federal Medicaid law by impeding patients' ability to access care from a qualified provider.

In addition, Salgado said Kansas' action was a punitive response to the antiabortion-rights videos and allegations made against Planned Parenthood affiliates in other states. "Other courts have rejected this guilt-by-association argument," she said, noting the argument is "both factually wrong and legally irrelevant."

State's argument

Separately, Michael Park, an attorney representing the state, on Tuesday said the case did not currently require court intervention because the state has not yet cut the funding (AP/Washington Post, 6/7).

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Robinson during the hearing questioned Park on the state's claims that Planned Parenthood temporarily delayed a state investigation into the organization's clinic at Overland Park over privacy concerns. Specifically, Robinson asked Park how the Planned Parenthood's alleged delay in that investigation could justify ending the organization's Medicaid funding, stating, "The body of law is very much against you on that point."

Separately, Patrick Strawbridge, another attorney for the state, said an injunction would not be appropriate until Planned Parenthood appealed the administrative hearing decision.

Strawbridge also claimed that Planned Parenthood had not proven that the funding cut would prevent Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving care at Planned Parenthood. However, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Robinson was skeptical of Strawbridge's claim and noted that many of Planned Parenthood's patients are low-income (Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/7).

In addition, Strawbridge challenged Planned Parenthood's arguments that the funding cut would force the organization to reduce services, cut jobs and possibly close a clinic (AP/Washington Post, 6/7).