JACKSON, Miss. — Planned Parenthood is asking a federal judge to quickly rule in its favor and overturn a Mississippi law that bans Medicaid spending with any health care provider that offers abortion.
The women’s health group points to a recent ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld an injunction against a similar law in Louisiana.
The 5th Circuit also handles appeals from Mississippi cases, and its Sept. 14 ruling in the Louisiana case “controls this court’s decision on the merits of this case,” Melissa Cohen, attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, argued in papers filed Monday in Mississippi.
Two Planned Parenthood affiliates that were previously eligible for Mississippi Medicaid payments for birth control and cancer screenings filed a federal lawsuit June 15 seeking to block the Mississippi law, which took effect July 1.
Medicaid is paid with state and federal money. In April, the director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to Medicaid agencies in all 50 states reminding them that they can’t cut funding to medical providers such as Planned Parenthood just because the providers might also offer abortion services.
Federal law specifies that a person enrolled in Medicaid may seek family planning services from any participating provider of their choice, and that the services must be paid by Medicaid, the lawsuit says.
The suit says the Mississippi law restricts health care providers that offer a constitutionally protected service: abortion.
Despite the federal warning, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law in May, forbidding Mississippi Medicaid from spending money with any facility that provides elective abortions, or with any entity affiliated with an abortion provider. Mississippi law, for years, has already prohibited the use of tax dollars to pay for most abortions.
The lawsuit says the state law forbids spending of the federal portion of Medicaid money on abortions except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the pregnant woman’s life.
Neither of the affiliates that are suing offers abortions in Mississippi. Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region says it does them at a clinic in Memphis, Tennessee. Planned Parenthood Southeast says it offers them at its clinics in Alabama and Georgia, but not at its clinic in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Mississippi Medicaid records show that from July 2013 to August 2015, the program spent $439 with Planned Parenthood in Hattiesburg — a fraction of what the state will likely spend defending itself in the lawsuit.
In Mississippi Medicaid’s July 20 response, an assistant state attorney general, Wilson Minor, denied most of Planned Parenthood’s allegations, but he agreed on the central point — that Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible for Mississippi Medicaid payments for other health services unless it stops offering abortions.
The Mississippi lawsuit is the 17th filed by Planned Parenthood since July 2015 against states seeking to block public money from being spent at its clinics, the organization said.
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