(CN) – A federal appeals court upheld an injunction on Wednesday barring Kansas from cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.
In a 2-1 decision, the 10th Circuit joined four other circuits in ruling that states can’t terminate providers from Medicaid funding “for any reason they see fit, especially when that reason is unrelated to the provider’s competence and the quality of the health care it provides.”
“States have broad authority to ensure that Medicaid health care providers are qualified to provide medical services – meaning that they are competent to provide medical services and do so ethically,” the ruling, by Circuit Judge Gregory Phillips, said. “But this power has limits.”
The case stems back to January 2016 when then-Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he would cut off all Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. That decision was made after the release of two heavily edited videos by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress that made it appear as if Planned Parenthood executives sold fetal tissue for profit.
Brownback ordered an investigation of the organization’s Kansas facilities. Two state agencies investigated and found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Despite the results, the state went forward with termination of the group’s participation in the state’s Medicaid program.
A federal judge blocked that move.
The state’s argument that the video showed evidence of wrongdoing was shut down in Wednesday’s ruling.
“But, first, all of the termination provisions Kansas relies on require a criminal conviction or related sanction; and no Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliate, including PPGP and PPSLR, has been convicted or sanctioned for any wrongdoing,” Phillips, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote in the 61-page ruling.
Attorneys for the state argued that the termination letters sent to Planned Parenthood were only preliminary notices and not final. Phillips disagreed with the notion, pointing to the language used in the letters.
“This argument fails,” Phillips wrote. “As did the district court, we read the notices of termination literally. The letters’ plain language precludes us from treating them as mere warnings of possible future events. The March 10 letters that Kansas sent to the providers were titled, ‘Notice of Intent to Terminate,’ and the May 3 letters were titled, ‘Notice of Decision to Terminate.’”
Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh, also an Obama appointee, joined Phillips’ opinion.
Concurring in part and dissenting in part, Circuit Judge Robert Bacharach agreed with his colleagues that some of the women who sued lacked standing because they couldn’t show they planned to receive care from one of the affected affiliates. But Bacharach doubted whether Congress intended to prohibit exclusionary provisions like Kansas passed.
“In my view, the answer is – at best – ambiguous,” Bacharach wrote in his 27-page partial dissent. “Thus, if an individually enforceable right existed here, it would not encompass a challenge to Kansas’ termination of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.”
A call for comment to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was not immediately returned.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.