SUPREME COURT REJECTS ANTI ABORTION APPEAL
The Supreme Court Monday rebuffed efforts by states to block funding to Planned Parenthood.
It left in place two lower court opinions that said that states violate federal law when they terminate Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood affiliates who offer preventive care for low income women.
It would have taken four justices to agree to hear the issue, and only three conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — voted to hear the case.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to side with the court’s liberals in not taking up the case — showing an effort to avoid high-profile abortion-related issues for now.
Roberts and Kavanaugh “likely have serious objections,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “But such votes seem to be a signal that they would rather avoid contentious, high-profile disputes for now, at least where possible.”
The two states were appealing lower court rulings that had blocked them from withholding money that is used for health services for low-income women. The money is not used for abortions. Abortion opponents have said Planned Parenthood should not receive any government money because of heavily edited videos that claimed to show the nation’s largest abortion provider profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research. Investigations sparked by the videos in several states didn’t result in criminal charges.
The dispute at the high court has nothing to do with abortion, as Thomas pointed out in a dissent that was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. In his first discernible vote on the court, new Justice Brett Kavanaugh declined to join Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch because a fourth vote would have been enough to set the case for arguments. Chief Justice John Roberts also did not vote to hear the case, along with the four more liberal justices.
At issue is not whether states can provide federal funding for abortion. Instead, the case concerned whether they can block Medicaid funds from offices that provide such women with annual health screens, contraceptive coverage and cancer screening.
Thomas wrote a dissent for the three conservatives, saying the court isn’t doing its job.
“What explains the Court’s refusal to do its job here?” Thomas wrote.
“I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named Planned Parenthood,” he wrote.
“But these cases are not about abortion rights,” he said. “They are about private rights of action under the Medicaid Act. Resolving the question presented here would not even affect Planned Parenthood’s ability to challenge the states’ decisions; it concerns only the rights of individual Medicaid patients to bring their own suits.”
Kansas — one of the states that had asked the Supreme Court to step in — wanted the justices to review a lower court opinion that held that while states have “broad authority” to ensure that Medicaid health care providers are qualified to provide medical services, “the power has limits.”
“States may not terminate providers from their Medicaid program for any reason they see fit, especially when that reason is unrelated to the provider’s competence and the quality of the healthcare it provides” a panel of judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held last February.
Kansas and Louisiana moved to terminate Medicaid contracts with the affiliates after a group opposing abortion published edited videos in 2014 they said depicted officials Planned Parenthood Federation of America discussing fetal tissue and appearing to talk about the price of such tissue.
Planned Parenthood later filed a lawsuit against the group, Center for Medical Progress, alleging that defendants lied their way into the recorded meetings and set up a fake company and personal identities to pull off the videos.
In court briefs, lawyers for Kansas argued that the lower court opinion gives “millions of Medicaid beneficiaries the ability to go directly to federal court to challenge a state’s determination that their provider is not ‘qualified” — bypassing layers of state administrative review.”
Most lower federal courts have found that private parties can challenge Medicaid funding decisions in court, although the federal appeals court in St. Louis rejected a similar court challenge and allowed Arkansas to end its contract with Planned Parenthood. A split among federal appeals courts is often a reason for the Supreme Court to step in.
“So what explains the court’s refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’ That makes the Court’s decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion,” Thomas wrote.
The dispute over funding for Planned Parenthood stemmed from the July 2015 release by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress of a series of edited videos purportedly depicting Planned Parenthood of America executives talking about the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has said it did not seek any payments beyond legally permitted reimbursement of costs.
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