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Planned Parenthood pushes back on Missouri’s latest defunding attempt

A lawsuit filed in state court claims Missouri’s failure to reimburse Planned Parenthood for Medicaid services because it is an abortion provider is unconstitutional.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) — Missouri’s refusal to reimburse Planned Parenthood for health care services provided through Medicaid is an unconstitutional attempt to defund it, the reproductive health organization claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday in state court.

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri and Planned Parenthood Great Plains sued the Missouri Department of Social Services in Cole County Circuit Court, a day before the funding cut is set to take effect.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said that its 11 Missouri health centers will continue caring for Medicaid patients at no cost for now. 

“For more than a year, we’ve warned the Biden administration: Missourians are in danger of losing access to their health care,” said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. “Now, we are pleading with them: enforce Medicaid law immediately. Missouri is the fourth state to violate federal law, and without enforcement, it won’t be the last.”

A spokesperson for the state government did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long-running saga between the state’s lone abortion provider and Missouri’s GOP-dominated legislature.

At issue is House Bill 3014, passed by state lawmakers last month, which excluded Planned Parenthood from being reimbursed for services provided in the MO HealthNet Program, the state’s Medicaid program, because it is an abortion provider.

“But an appropriation bill cannot disqualify an otherwise eligible provider from participating in the MO HealthNet Program,” the lawsuit states. “Nor can an appropriation bill eliminate funding to a particular class of providers who are statutorily eligible to participate in that program.”

The latest move to cut funding echoes a failed 2019 attempt by state lawmakers who passed a bill banning any Medicaid reimbursement funds to abortion facilities. The Missouri Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, found in favor of Planned Parenthood, calling the effort “a clear and unmistakable violation” of the Missouri Constitution.

A state administrative panel also found in May 2020 that the state wrongfully withheld Planned Parenthood’s abortion license.

The clinic has long been in the crosshairs of state lawmakers, who have attempted to add stronger regulation in a state that already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The Eighth Circuit is currently considering Missouri’s attempt to revive an effort to ban abortions on fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Missouri has become a battleground for abortion rights as Republicans, emboldened by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, seek to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

High-profile abortion rights battles are also taking place in Kentucky, Texas and Alabama, among other states.

Texas passed a law banning abortions after about six weeks into pregnancy. Abortion advocates argue that many women don’t even know they are pregnant by that time.

“As a four-state provider of health care, no one has seen more patients fleeing Texas after lawmakers put their own interests ahead of patients’ rights,” Emily Wales, interim president and CEO Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement. “We know what a crisis in care looks like, and conservative politicians are determined to force Missourians to endure the same horrors.”

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