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Panel rejects South Carolina bid to kick Planned Parenthood off Medicaid program

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic can stay on the Palmetto State’s list of approved Medicaid providers, a federal appeals court ruled.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — The Fourth Circuit on Tuesday rejected South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster’s latest attempt to remove Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program because its clinics provide abortions.

In a 25-page ruling, a three-judge panel affirmed a permanent injunction that prevents South Carolina from terminating Planned Parenthood South Atlantic's Medicaid provider agreement. 

“At the outset of this litigation, the district court issued a preliminary injunction preventing South Carolina from terminating Planned Parenthood’s provider agreement. We affirmed its decision then. South Carolina now returns to our court to appeal the district court’s subsequent permanent injunction,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Harvie Wilkinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee. "We again affirm the district court’s judgment."

The unanimous panel – which also included U.S. Circuit Judges Julius Richardson and James Wynn, appointed by Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively – found that allowing South Carolina to defund Planned Parenthood would nullify the intent of Congress, which was to allow Medicaid recipients and individuals of any economic status to select the medical provider of their choice.

“In sum we refuse to nullify Congress’s undeniable desire to extend a choice of medical providers to the less fortunate among us, individuals who experience the same medical problems as the more fortunate in society but who lack under their own means the same freedom to choose their healthcare provider,” Wilkinson wrote.

McMaster, a Republican, signed an order in July 2018 that terminated Planned Parenthood’s ability to seek Medicaid reimbursements for family planning and other health services that it provides to hundreds of men, women and teens at its clinics in Charleston and Columbia, including abortion.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a patient, Julie Edwards, sued over the order, asking the court to block it.  

U.S. District Judge Mary Lewis, an Obama appointee, temporarily blocked McMaster’s rule, deciding that states can’t exclude health care providers from Medicaid programs for reasons unrelated to any potential inability to perform services covered by the joint federal and state program.

The Richmond, Virginia-based Fourth Circuit upheld that decision in 2019, and on Tuesday it also affirmed the lower court's subsequent permanent injunction.

Wilkinson pointed out that no parties in the case dispute that Planned Parenthood is capable of performing family planning and non-abortive services for Medicaid patients.

“If we were to restrict the opportunity that these individuals have to access prenatal care that would both assist the mother and help bring healthy babies into this world, we would be reaching what we think is a legally impermissible result,” the judge wrote. 

Last month, the appeals court upheld another ruling by Lewis to suspend South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat and Protection Act following a challenge by Planned Parenthood. 

McMaster on Tuesday asked the entire Fourth Circuit to review the 2021 law, which bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

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Categories / Appeals, Government, Health, Regional

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