Missouri Court Shuts Down Effort to Defund Planned Parenthood

Missouri has been a flashpoint in the nation’s abortion debate, as the state also tried to deny Planned Parenthood’s license last year.

Anti-abortion advocates gather outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on June 4. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) — The Missouri Supreme Court ruled 6-1 Tuesday that a provision in a state appropriations bill that would have deprived Planned Parenthood of millions of dollars for medical services reimbursements is unconstitutional.

At issue is House Bill 2011, which is the Department of Social Services appropriations bill for the fiscal year of 2019.

Missouri’s GOP-dominated Legislature passed the bill, which states, “No funds shall be expended to any abortion facility as defined in Section 188.015, or any affiliate or associate thereof.”

Planned Parenthood provides birth control services along with other health services, though only one clinic in the state offers abortions.

The Missouri Medicaid Audit and Compliance Unit notified Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region that its reimbursement claims for 2019 were denied due to its status as the state’s lone abortion provider.

Planned Parenthood unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission and then filed a petition for review in the St. Louis City Circuit Court, which ruled in the clinic’s favor and found the funding provision unconstitutional.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood on Tuesday affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

“When the meaning of the general law is clear, there is no need for ‘guidance’ in an appropriation bill,” Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote for the majority. “As a result, the language in section 11.800 seeking to disqualify certain authorized providers based on services they provide separately and apart from the MO HealthNet program – and for which no MO HealthNet payments can be made – is a naked attempt to use HB2011 both to appropriate funds for various purposes and to amend sections [of state law].”

He added, “This is a clear and unmistakable violation of the proscription in article III, section 23 of the Missouri Constitution against bills with multiple subjects.

The court’s ruling severs the provision at issue from the rest of the bill.

“Today is a victory for Planned Parenthood patients who rely on public health insurance programs to stay healthy,” M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood health centers across the state have protected our communities’ health care needs by providing preventive services to thousands of patients.”

A spokesperson for the Missouri Attorney General’s office simply said in an email statement, “We are disappointed in the decision.”

During a December hearing before the state’s high court, lawyers for Planned Parenthood argued that the organization provided other essential health services such as cancer screenings, pap smears and birth control pills. Those services would be at risk without funding.

The state pushed back, claiming that Planned Parenthood’s argument would essentially mandate funding for the present and future.

The lone dissenter, Judge Zel M. Fischer, said he would hold that the provision is constitutional.

“Even if one accepts the principal opinion’s assertion that an appropriation bill that amends a general law contains multiple subjects, I still do not agree that § 23 is violated because § 23 expressly allows appropriation bills to embrace an unlimited amount of subjects, so long as they relate to the appropriation of money,” Fischer wrote. “By disregarding the constitution’s plain language in favor of policy considerations, the principal opinion sets a dangerous precedent in which I cannot acquiesce.”

Missouri has been a flashpoint in the nation’s abortion debate, as anti-abortion advocates are seeking to get the issue in front of a conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court.

In a separate legal action, Missouri unsuccessfully tried to deny Planned Parenthood’s abortion provider license in 2019 citing safety concerns for patients.

That case resulted in a week-long hearing in October in front of the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission. Last month, the AHC commissioner issued a 97-page ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood allowing the St. Louis clinic to still provide abortion services.

The decision kept Missouri from becoming the first state without an abortion provider since the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood officials have accused Missouri of using the legislative process as a weaponizing mechanism designed to deny abortion access.

“Missourians need access to health care, and today’s decision is a great win for patients who rely on Planned Parenthood for sexual and reproductive health care,” Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood will continue to provide the same high-quality, affordable, accessible health care Missourians have relied on for more than 85 years.”

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