News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Turns Away Arizona Planned Parenthood Funding Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

For the second time, the Roberts Court has let stand an appeals court decision permanently blocking state attempts to strip Planned Parenthood clinics of Medicaid funding.

On Monday, the Supreme Court again turned back efforts to strip Planned Parenthood clinics of Medicaid funding, this time rejecting a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to overturn a federal appeals court ruling blocking its attempts to disqualify the women’s health-care provider from state Medicaid funds.

HB 2800, passed in 2012, would have excluded physicians who provide safe, legal abortion from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s Medicaid system. In February 2013, a federal district court found that the law violated the federal Medicaid Act, which protects patients’ rights to make their own decisions about health-care providers and permanently blocked the law from taking effect. Last August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed that decision.

“This ruling is a victory for Arizona women and their families,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, in a statement. “The men and women of this state have the right to see the health care provider they deem is best for them. Thousands of low-income women rely on Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care. Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to vital services.”

In defending the law, attorneys for the state had argued that the term “qualified” in the Medicaid statute was “too vague for the court to enforce” and therefore the state was free to come up with its own definition of qualified, including one that would block any provider offering access to or referrals for abortion care from receiving state funds. This argument, the Ninth Circuit held, would have effectively gutted the “provider-choice” provision of the Medicaid Act, the portion of the law that allows Medicaid recipients to chose which providers they want to see.

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“Let this be a lesson to politicians across the country: These dangerous and unconstitutional laws won’t be tolerated by the courts or the voters,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Over and over again, courts have clearly said that states can’t block people from getting preventive health care at Planned Parenthood.”

According to Planned Parenthood, prior to the State of Arizona asking the Supreme Court to intervene, the litigation over the funding ban already cost the state approximately $279,000 in legal fees alone, which is what it would cost for Arizona to provide clinical breast exams or cervical cancer screenings to thousands of AHCCCS patients. Those costs would have increased had the Roberts Court taken the case.

Monday’s decision marks the second time the Supreme Court has refused to overturn such lower court decisions. Last year, the Roberts Court declined a request to review a similar decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals permanently blocking Indiana’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Federal courts have also blocked similar state efforts in Kansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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