Judge Blocks Kansas Effort To Defund Planned Parenthood

Jul 5, 2016

The decision to block Kansas' effort to defund Planned Parenthood clinics comes just eight days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning restrictions on abortion providers in Texas.
Credit Matt Hodapp / Heartland Health Monitor

A federal judge blocked Kansas’ effort to cut off two regional Planned Parenthood affiliates’ Medicaid funding, ruling the move likely violates federal law.

In a 54-page decision handed down late Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson granted a preliminary injunction sought by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri (now known as Planned Parenthood Great Plains) and by Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

Robinson found that the plaintiffs would probably be able to show at trial that the grounds cited by the state for terminating their participation in the Medicaid program were inapplicable.

In a May 3 letter to the affiliates, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment cited three grounds for terminating their Medicaid funding:  video evidence that other Planned Parenthood affiliates entered into illegal agreements to procure fetal tissue after abortions; an alleged failure to comply with solid waste disposal inspections; and concerns over Medicaid claims submitted by other Planned Parenthood affiliates in neighboring states.

Robinson said the Planned Parenthood affiliates were likely to prevail on all three claims.

“Medicaid patients have the explicit right to seek family planning services from the qualified provider of their choice,” she wrote. “It is uncontroverted that PPKM (Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri) and PPSLR (Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region) serve hundreds of underprivileged women in the State of Kansas.  It is in the public interest to allow these individuals to be treated by the qualified provider of their choice, and to have that provider reimbursed under Medicaid pending a trial on the merits in this case.”

The Kansas health department notified the affiliates of its intentions nearly four months after Gov. Sam Brownback vowed to defund them in his State of the State address. Brownback accused Planned Parenthood of trafficking in “baby body parts,” even though several days earlier the Kansas Board of Healing Arts had found no merit to the charge.

“We promised to fight Gov. Brownback’s fool’s errand in his attempt to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and today marks one more step forward in defending access for patients,” Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement shortly after Robinson handed down her decision. “While Gov. Brownback continues touting baseless accusations and wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits, Planned Parenthood refuses to allow politics to get in the way of access to health care.”

Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Brownback, told KCUR that the administration will review today’s ruling and move forward with the case.

“The governor is going to continue the fight to make Kansas a pro-life state,” she said. “You know, this is a preliminary ruling. We need to look at the ruling more closely, but our intent is to move forward with the litigation.”

The two affiliates filed their lawsuit just a day after learning it was going to lose its Medicaid funding. The suit named the head of the agency, Susan Mosier, and alleged that the agency’s action was unlawful and based on spurious grounds. The affiliates were joined by 11 current and former medical providers at the two affiliates whose participation in Medicaid the agency also sought to terminate.

Kansas recently agreed to rescind its termination of the individual medical providers, leaving just the Planned Parenthood affiliates as plaintiffs.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri last year served nearly 450 Medicaid patients –adults with monthly income of no more than $768 who were pregnant, disabled or parents. The St. Louis affiliate operates a clinic in Joplin, just over the Kansas state line, and serves a small number of Kansas patients.

The state’s move to end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding came just two weeks after the Obama administration warned all 50 states that they cannot cut funding to medical providers simply because they also offer abortion services.

Under federal law, Medicaid funds can’t be used to pay for abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger or she was the victim of rape or incest.

Kansas is one of several states, including Missouri, that have cut off or threatened to cut off Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding. Courts in several states – Kansas is now the latest – have blocked those moves.

Robinson’s decision, which was expected, comes just eight days after the U.S. Supreme Court found that two Texas restrictions on abortion clinics – requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers – placed an “undue burden” on the right to an abortion.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.