Lawsuit Challenges Arkansas Governor’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funds

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Lawsuit Challenges Arkansas Governor’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funds

Teddy Wilson

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit Friday, requesting a federal court overturn Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s directive to prevent the organization from participating in the state’s Medicaid program.

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit Friday, requesting a federal court overturn Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s directive to prevent the organization from participating in the state’s Medicaid program.

Hutchinson, a Republican, directed the Arkansas Department of Human Services on August 14 to terminate its Medicaid provider contract with Planned Parenthood within 30 days, reported the Associated Press.

“It is apparent that after the recent revelations on the actions of Planned Parenthood, that this organization does not represent the values of the people of our state and Arkansas is better served by terminating any and all existing contracts with them,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

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Hutchinson made the announcement after Rep. Nate Bell (I-Mena) sent a letter to the governor requesting that the contract be terminated.

Planned Parenthood received more than $51,000 in Medicaid payments from the state over the past year, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Amy Webb told the Associated Press. None of the state funding was for payments for abortion services.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and their co-plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the ACLU of Arkansas, claim that low-income patients who access health care through Arkansas’ Medicaid programs could lose access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other preventive health services.

“Governor Hutchinson has no business telling women in Arkansas where they can and cannot go for cancer screenings, birth control, HIV tests and other care. Politicians in Arizona and Indiana have tried—and failed—to do the same thing,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

Republican governors in Alabama, Louisiana, and Utah have also cancelled Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) directed state agencies to review the government funding of programs operated by Planned Parenthood.

A small group of New Hampshire lawmakers, all men, recently voted to end a $640,000 contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Legislators have justified cutting funding to Planned Parenthood by citing a series of videos published by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress. The videos feature heavily edited footage of secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

Reproductive rights advocates in Alabama and Louisiana have filed similar lawsuits to those in Arkansas.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees the Medicaid program, issued a warning last month that efforts to defund Planned Parenthood by cutting the reproductive health-care provider from the Medicaid program likely violates federal law.

“The federal government has clearly stated that Medicaid patients, not the state, have the right to choose the provider they want to deliver their family planning and other health care—including Planned Parenthood,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. “This is yet another attempt by the State of Arkansas to interfere in women’s personal, private health care decisions.”

Planned Parenthood has two health centers in the state, located in Little Rock and Fayetteville. The health centers provide about 4,400 patients with reproductive health services, and a significant proportion of these patients receive care through Medicaid, according to Planned Parenthood.

Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement that there is already an enormous need for health care across the state. “There are more than 200,000 women in need of affordable family planning care in Arkansas, and Arkansas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation,” de Baca said.  

“By attempting to cancel Planned Parenthood’s contract, Governor Hutchinson is blocking women and men from care at Planned Parenthood health centers,” de Baca said. “Women and men who come to Planned Parenthood for care aren’t here to make a political statement—they are here to get quality care from a provider they know and trust.”