A federal judge this week granted class action status to a lawsuit challenging Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s (R) attempts to cut Planned Parenthood health-care centers from the state’s Medicaid program.
The decision means the three women who originally filed suit to block the defunding attempts can represent the thousands of Arkansans insured by Medicaid and use Planned Parenthood health-care centers for accessing family planning services.
Hutchinson in August directed the Arkansas Department of Human Services to terminate its Medicaid provider contract with Planned Parenthood within 30 days. “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 announcing the decision.
Hutchinson was referring to a series of heavily edited attack videos released by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP’s videos purported to show Planned Parenthood engaged in the illegal trafficking of fetal tissue. CMP officials have worked closely with Republican lawmakers to defund the health-care organization.
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Planned Parenthood has two health centers in Arkansas, one in Little Rock and the other in Fayetteville. The health centers provide about 4,400 patients with reproductive health services, and a significant portion of these patients receive care through Medicaid, according to Planned Parenthood.
Reproductive rights advocates sued in September, arguing the decision to terminate the Medicaid provider contract violated federal law. A federal court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Hutchinson administration from discontinuing Medicaid funds for the three original plaintiffs.
The lawsuit will now continue as a class action, though U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has not yet applied the injunction to the entire class. Once that happens, it will prevent the state from ending Medicaid coverage of Planned Parenthood services to Medicaid patients in the state.
Attorneys for the state of Arkansas had argued that each Medicaid recipient should be required to bring their own individual lawsuits to challenge any denial of Medicaid benefits.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a statement following the decision stating she “strongly disagrees with today’s decision.” She added, “It’s unfortunate that women who need access to ethical and responsible health care providers are being used by Planned Parenthood in litigation designed to protect Planned Parenthood’s bottom line.”
Baker is also presiding over a challenge to a new Arkansas law that limits the manner in which abortion-inducing medications can be administered. That law was set to take effect January 1, but Planned Parenthood sued in December, arguing the measure unduly burdened abortion rights. Baker agreed and granted a temporary restraining order in December that blocks enforcement of the law until March 14 at the earliest.