Missouri Court Takes Up Push to Defund Planned Parenthood

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Lawyers for Planned Parenthood argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday that the state’s refusal to reimburse it for health care services is an example of legislation through appropriation.

A member of the Coalition for Life St. Louis waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member in June 2019. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

“For decades, the state of Missouri has reimbursed Planned Parenthood for physician services for women that needed it,” Chuck Hatfield, a Stinson attorney representing the clinic, told reporters after the 30-minute hearing. “Things like cancer screenings, pap smears.”

At issue is the constitutionality of 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 bill unconstitutional.

All 11 of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Missouri still provide the health care services without guarantee of payment. At stake is hundreds of thousands of dollars and Hatfield said if the state is allowed to withhold payment, those services would be at risk.

“Women have been for decades coming to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, pap smears and birth control pills,” Hatfield told reporters. “It’s very disruptive to have to change providers. … There is a shortage of Medicaid providers in the state so it is important for Planned Parenthood to continue to provide those services.”

Central to both the clinic and state’s argument is whether the bill violates the single subject provision in the Missouri Constitution, which states that bills cannot relate to more than one subject except general appropriation bills, which may embrace various subjects and accounts for which state money is appropriated.

Missouri Solicitor General D. John Sauer, representing the state, claimed before the state high court Tuesday that Planned Parenthood’s argument would essentially mandate funding for the present and the future.

Sauer argued precedent held that, “One General Assembly cannot tie the hands of its successor.”

“The single subject argument in this case has no roots in the Missouri Constitution,” he continued.

Sauer declined to discuss the case with reporters after the hearing.

Hatfield believes his client was specifically targeted by Republican lawmakers.

“The courts always seeks to see if there is any ambiguity between the bill and the law and they always try to avoid direct conflict,” he said. “In this case, I don’t think you can.”

There is no timetable for a decision from the court.

Tuesday marked the latest hearing in the ongoing fight between Planned Parenthood and Missouri over abortion rights. In October, both sides argued whether the St. Louis clinic could keep its abortion license in a four-day hearing before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. A ruling in that case is expected in February.

Hatfield said the funding case is not tied to the license fight and that it actually predates it by a year and a half.

“I don’t think they are tied together,” Hatfield said. “This particular administration does not want to give money to doctors with Planned Parenthood and that is unconstitutional.”

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