BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - A federal judge ordered Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and the Alabama Medicaid Agency to reinstate a provider agreement with Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Bentley terminated the agreement after the alleged undercover videos surfaced that suggest Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue obtained from abortions.
The women's health organization has denied that assertion, arguing the videos were deceptively edited to create the controversy.
Planned Parenthood Southeast received funds from the state of Alabama for services unrelated to abortion, including routine gynecological exams, pregnancy counseling and breast and cervical cancer screenings.
It sued the state along with a patient known as Jane Doe when Gov. Bentley terminated the provider agreement after viewing the videos, which were released by an anti-abortion group.
According to the opinion written by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, Bentley sent a letter to Planned Parenthood and gave no reason for the termination, but in a briefing to the court, he stated that his reason for terminating the agreement was based on his viewing of a video that he says shows "a lack of respect for human life."
Planned Parenthood Southeast claims the fetal-tissue donation programs are operated by affiliates of Planned Parenthood Foundation of America and allow women who elect to have abortions to donate fetal tissue for medical research purposes.
Planned Parenthood Southeast says none of its employees appear in the videos, and it says it never participated in fetal-tissue donation.
Nevertheless, following the release of the 11 videos, Planned Parenthood reported an increase in death threats and incidents of harassment.
One of the plaintiffs in the case is Jane Doe, a Medicaid recipient who receives birth control shots from Planned Parenthood every three months. She claims she will face "irreparable injury" if she is forced to stop seeking services from a provider with whom she is comfortable.
Doe says she may have to wait a long time for an appointment and this could interfere with her current contraceptive shot schedule.
Judge Thompson found the governor's termination of the provider agreement violated the "free-choice-of-provider" provision under the Medicaid Act that "gives Medicaid patients the right to receive medical assistance from the provider of their choice without state interference."
He issued an injunction based partly on Doe's argument, finding she has "demonstrated that she faces a substantial threat of irreparable injury absent the issuance of an injunction."
Judge Thompson also found the governor's termination letter to Planned Parenthood Southeast was an "at-will" termination under the agreement rather than a "for-cause" termination because he did not provide a "substantive reason or statutory basis for the termination of its provider agreement."
The opinion continues, "If a state were free to terminate a provider agreement for any reason with a basis in state law, recipients' free-choice-of-provider rights would be greatly weakened and subject to state policies and politics having nothing to do with the Medicaid program."
The defendants belatedly claimed they had a "for-cause" reason for termination because of the videos released and they argue that the "ethical violations" by the Planned Parenthood affiliates are attributable to Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Thompson disagreed saying, "What PPFA (Planned Parenthood Foundation of America) permits other affiliates to do therefore has no bearing on PPSE, which, to reiterate, has elected not to engage in fetal-tissue donation."
In conclusion, Judge Thompson found the governor's termination of the provider agreement violated the Medicare Act because the Act requires states to provide a reason for the termination and Bentley provided none.
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