Reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in an effort to preserve state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys on behalf of Planned Parenthood and three patient co-plaintiffs, asks the court to enter an injunction that will stop enforcement of efforts by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) to block patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) through Medicaid.
On August 3, Kathy Kliebert, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (“DHH”) notified PPGC that DHH was terminating its Medicaid provider agreements, effective 30 days after the date of the notice, according to the complaint. This termination was done without giving any warning or expressing any previous concerns about Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s participation in the Medicaid program, according to the plaintiffs.
While the notice gave no reason for the termination, the complaint notes that Jindal referred in a press release to heavily edited and misleading videos released by an anti-choice front group with regard to Planned Parenthood’s abortion practice in other states. Jindal’s press release states that he terminated the agreements because “Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the State of Louisiana in regards to respecting human life.”
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PPGC does not provide abortion care in Louisiana.
Planned Parenthood has two health centers in Louisiana, located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Both provide care in Health Professional Shortage Areas, areas designated by the federal government as having a shortage of primary care, dental care, or mental health-care providers.
Planned Parenthood health centers in Louisiana provide about 10,000 patients reproductive health services every year, including well-woman exams, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing, and risk reduction counseling, as well as a full-range of FDA-approved birth control methods, pregnancy testing, and options counseling.
The health care centers also provide screening for high blood pressure and diabetes, with a significant proportion of these patients in Louisiana receiving this care through Medicaid.
“More than 5,200 low-income Louisianans are able to get care from Planned Parenthood through Medicaid each year, but we know there is still a vast unmet need for care in our communities,” Raegan Carter, senior director of external services, Louisiana, at PPGC said in a call with reporters. “Our state is dealing with some of the nation’s worst health disparities and health outcomes, making the high-quality and affordable care that our health centers in Louisiana provide even more critical to helping our communities lead healthier lives.”
Carter said Jindal’s actions puts about $730,000 at risk. That’s money used last fiscal year to provide 1,200 pap tests and more than 2,000 well-woman visits and breast exams, for example.
Jindal’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood will take effect September 2, unless the court acts before then and grants the plaintiffs’ request.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration warned the Jindal administration this month in a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that runs Medicaid, that its latest efforts to defund Planned Parenthood by cutting off the reproductive health-care provider from the Medicaid program likely violates federal law.
Louisiana’s plan likely violates a 2011 agency guidance that says states cannot discriminate against Medicaid health-care providers simply because they provide abortion services with non-federal dollars, according to the agency.
Jindal’s actions are part of his larger campaign against abortion rights and to punish abortion providers, even though the only services PPGC provides in Louisiana are family planning and other preventive health services to women, men, and teens who need them, according to the complaint.
Jindal is one of 17 Republicans seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“When Governor Jindal and other politicians try to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding to score political points, what they’re actually doing is ensuring that some women’s cancer will get worse before it’s caught and that HIV and other infections will spread,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the announcement of the lawsuit. “We’re in court today to protect over 5,200 people’s access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams, and basic health care in Louisiana. Many of these folks would have nowhere else to turn for health care.”
Federal courts largely have been hostile to efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, striking attempts in both Indiana and Arizona to strip the organization of federal funding.
But other states like Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey have been successful at greatly reducing money for Planned Parenthood, mostly by reducing state funds and grants to the health-care provider. In 2011 Texas also dropped out of an optional Medicaid program that provides federal funding for family planning services for low-income people who don’t otherwise quality for Medicaid.