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State Can’t Cut Funds |to Planned Parenthood

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Louisiana's neediest residents can still get Medicaid-funded services from Louisiana Planned Parenthood facilities in the state, a federal appeals court ruled.

The Fifth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a lower court's injunction blocking the state from cutting off Medicaid funding to area Planned Parenthoods.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal had moved to block state funding for the medical care provider following the release last year of videos by an anti-abortion group that appeared to show employees from Planned Parenthood selling tissue and body parts from aborted fetuses.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and three of its patients challenged the state action in federal court.

They said the attempt was politically motivated and would leave them no options for obtaining medical care. Further, the agency said it has never provided an abortion in the state.

The three-judge Fifth Circuit panel upheld U.S. District Judge John deGravelles's order last October that temporarily blocked the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals from withholding Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast for services provided to Medicaid beneficiaries.

"The public interest weighs in favor of preliminarily enforcing the Individual Plaintiffs' rights and allowing some of the state's neediest individuals to continue receiving medical care from a much needed provider," U.S. Circuit Judge Jacques Weiner Jr. wrote on behalf of the panel.

Weiner was a 1989 nominee of President George H.W. Bush. The other judges on the panel, Edward Prado and Priscilla Owen, were both nominees of George W. Bush.

The judges found the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals did not find Planned Parenthood violated medical or any other standards that would have warranted state action against it.

Instead, the state sought to allow Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to continue to provide services to clients who could afford to pay for them, while not allowing the provider to give services to the state's poorest residents.

Such a scheme, the appeals court found, would violate the purpose of Medicaid.

"LDHH's termination of PPGC's provider agreements appears to produce precisely the result that the free-choice-of-provider provision is meant to avoid," the panel wrote. "LDHH will deny PPGC's services only to Medicaid recipients, but all other individuals will be free to seek care from PPGC. But, 'the [Medicaid] free-choice-of provider provision unambiguously requires that states participating in the Medicaid program allow covered patients to choose among the family planning medical practitioners they could use were they paying out of their own pockets."'

The appeals court also found the attempt by former Gov. Jindal and the LDHH was politically motivated because Jindal released a statement that said funding to PPGC was being cut "because Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the State of Louisiana in regards to respecting human life," and that motivation would violate plaintiffs' Medicaid rights.

"This victory is critically important for thousands of Louisianans across our state — people who deserve to have their health come before political agendas," Raegan Carter, directors of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast said in a news release. "As a Louisianan and a woman of color, this is very personal. People of color in our community already face too many systemic barriers to care — and blocking care at Planned Parenthood would make it even worse."

Planned Parenthood said defunding efforts of this sort have been undertaken in 24 states.

Jindal left office in January and John Bel Edwards, a democrat who is opposed to abortion, took his place.

Gov. Edwards pushed a bill through the last legislative session to pull Medicaid funding if Planned Parenthood begins performing abortions in the state.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, a first-term Republican who has taken over the state's efforts to defund Planned Parenthood since Jindal left office, said in a released statement last year that "it is in the best interest of our State's citizens to protect the integrity of our Medicaid program by pursuing this appeal" against Planned Parenthood.

A spokesman for Landry did not immediately return an emailed request for comment on this week's ruling.

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